Like an episode of SmackDown Live, but with clean finishes! (And two amazing cage matches)
On Sunday night, the WWE once again brought out “The most evil structure in existence” to settle its two most engrossing feuds on the SmackDown brand. Also there were other matches. Though you could argue that only two of the seven bouts on the card were bad, the night was a wholly uneven and largely forgettable affair aside from its amazing opener and an ending that absolutely no one saw coming. Was the outing worth your $9.99 network subscription?
- At the start of the show, Tye Dillinger is talking to Daniel Bryan about his rollup win against Baron Corbin on Tuesday’s SmackDown Live like it’s an accomplishment. Instead of saying “So? That’s how everyone that isn’t my brother-in-law beats Corbin,” D.Bry actually agrees with Tye that he earned himself a spot in the U.S. Title Match later tonight. There are many problems with this. First off, Tye has never come close to beating AJ, the actual champ, so who cares if the challenger lost? If we’re to believe all matches are signed contracts, wouldn’t AJ or Barry Corbs have to sign a new contract to allow this change? They both cut promos later in the night about how they don’t like it, so WTF? Third, and most importantly, could you telegraph the ending more than by having a lovable scrub like Dillinger added to a match where you want a title change but don’t want either of your serious investments to take a pin? Oh well, guess who gets beat in the match later?
- Aiden English comes out to join the panel to discuss the Rusev/Orton match and sings a few songs about how my man RuRu is going to trounce Randy for the pride of Bulgaria. I think it’s kind of interesting that English never gets his own push, but as a background player in any other heel’s program, he’s always a good and loyal friend. He was going to sing the new theme for the Kevin Owens Show, he created a stirring emotional hymn for Rusev Day…if he belts out a tune about how receding hairlines are distinguished for Baron Corbin’s coronation as US Champ then his character will have officially morphed to “Drama nerd/cocky jerk support system.”
- Midway through the event we get a new 2K18 commercial where they announce that Colonel Sanders will be a playable character in the game. Bit of a step down from The Terminator, but okay. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it will be Ziggler in the white suit or the return of HBKFC. We did, however, get Kurt Angle to don the mustache and cane to beat up Heath Slater in a chicken suit, so win some/lose some.
- The only match on the Pre-show is American Beta (Benjamin and Gable) Vs. the Hype Bros in a battle of the missed opportunities. It’s a very SmackDown style match, which is to say “fine but underdeveloped and forgettable.” The actual story here, if the WWE would ever focus on it that is, should be the slow burn dissolution of the Hype Bros — but they can’t seem to figure out who is going to go heel. Ryder was the one leaving in a huff last time, but he’s throwing out handshakes to his opponents as signs of good sportsmanship mid match. Mojo’s playing it straight and surprised at Ryder’s blind tags, but then blames the Broski for their downturn in backstage interviews. If you thought this, a rare televised appearance, may advance that story, prepare to be disappointed. On the other side there’s Gable, who is amazing in the ring and almost salvages the crowd with his smooth, fluid motions, but his partner, however, is no Jason Jordan. In his heyday, Shelton was one of the most amazing athletes in the industry but dude is in his 40s. He can’t keep up that pace, and his bouts are all “spot, pause, spot, pause, spot, pause” to prevent him from blowing up because of it. Chad and Benji take it with their power bomb/diving bulldog finish and the world waits to find out the fate of Zack and Mojo’s friendship for another week.
The Usos Vs. The New Day (c) for the SmackDown Tag Team Championships (Hell in a Cell match)
A little over a year ago I was tired of both these teams. The New Day’s pop culture-heavy meandering promos had grown stale, as had their ring work, and their record setting title reign had become more of a tiresome method of sticking it to Demolition (who are a part of the company’s ongoing concussion lawsuit) at the expense of their own tag division than an interesting story. Similarly, the Usos were in babyface limbo, floating around as smiling/dancing/face painted party dudes who had no real personality or development as in-ring competitors. What a difference a year can make. These two teams have been the best part of the last several PPV events in a walk, and though it’s about time that they go their separate ways, part of me regrets that we won’t see further bouts between the sons of Rikishi and the rainbow colored ice cream vendors. Still, if you have to go out with a bang, this is how you do it.
The New Day, in their Up Up Down Down gear, put forth Xavier and Big E for this match, which may seem controversial at first (as the traditional big match lineup is E and Kofi) but Woods has been on a bit of a redemption tour of late, so it was good to see him get a chance to shine on such a grand stage. Woods definitely rose to the occasion, but then again, all four men turned in amazing performances on this night. The match was evenly paced and littered with high spots from all the performers. More than that, this was the first Hell in a Cell match in quite a while that felt suitably violent. From the get go, both teams pulled out all the stops, grabbing weapons as soon as the bell rang and putting them to use as often as possible, and in inventive ways. They must have gone through about 20 separate kendo sticks in this match – including two rainbow canes used both by and on Woods specifically. Woods also used not one, but two separate trombones as weapons during the match, tearing through Francesca 2 Turbo and a red one that I’m just going to assume is Francesca III: Third Strike.
As I mentioned earlier, there are so many high sports throughout the match. From Big E’s terrifying spear through the ropes where it looks like he bangs his head on the steel post, to Jey splashing woods on that same bar with a remarkably well placed tope con hilo, to the New Day’s uranage into a backstabber, this match is a testament to resiliency, in-ring storytelling and work rate. At one point, the New Day takes some of those kendo sticks and uses them to trap Jey Uso in the corner in an inventive spot I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a cage match. A little later, the Usos produce handcuffs, hang woods over the corner post by his wrists and wail on him for an ungodly amount of time. You can see the end results below.
Unsurprisingly, both teams hit their tandem finishers (side note: When was the Midnight Hour renamed the Up Up Down Down? That should be a separate move) for heartbreaking nearfalls at various points in the match. The end eventually comes after the Usos lay a chair across a defiant Woods’ chest and hit their double splash to win their fifth tag title in the WWE. In the Talking Smack post show, Jimmy talks about reaching “that Booker T” milestone and these guys really deserve it. This match would be a standout on any card, be it Wrestle Kingdom or WrestleMania, and the WWE has it as the first match on a B PPV. It’s unreal. I know you want to start the night hot, and you want to finish with the KO/Shane bout, but this was another match of the night from two of the best tandems working today. Why you wouldn’t put them toward the end of the night to entice viewers to stick what is a mostly banal and boring PPV is beyond me.
Randy Orton vs. Rusev
Whoever followed the New Day/Usos match was always going to face an uphill battle, so it was always going to fall on one of the weaker matches on the card to die a slow death before a crowd that is too exhausted to care about some meaningless nonsense. Since the WWE is trying to build Bobby Roode into a main event talent (which they totally botch later in the night, btw, but we’ll get to that.) it falls on the Legend Killer and my man RuRu to fall on that grenade. This match was never going to set the world on fire, but the fact that panning shots revealed a healthy amount of the audience got up to use the bathroom/grab a hot dog during this bout suggests that WWE creative has really failed these performers. Admittedly some blame has to fall on Orton’s shoulders, as the man has been performing essentially the same match over and over again for the past several years, but Rusev? Sweet, beautiful Rusev? I think the tides have turned, and the man is now officially in Bray Wyatt territory where there’s pretty much nothing he can do to get out of the basement he finds himself buried under.
The match itself is fine in the way all Randy Orton matches are fine. The rand man takes a beating for a while from the larger man, hits a few signatures, is underfoot again until a series of reversals leads to an RKO out of nowhere, with nowhere being exactly where you think it’s coming from. The formula is so tired and overdone that you could imagine this match in your head and be mostly right. It’s not like Orton isn’t a great physical performer — his explosiveness for a man his age is remarkable, but look at his face. He wrestles, cuts promos and basically does everything with the thousand yard stare of someone who is just over this shit. Maybe that’s what happens when you’ve been at the top of the card for almost your entire career, but look at an Orton match from 2003 when he was the Legend Killer, and probably the most engaged he’s ever been as a wrestler. There’s a passion and a snap to his movements, and the deliberate nature of his offense is so crisp and well wrought that the audience is captivated. Then watch this match with Rusev and see a man who is just going through the motions. It’s the difference between having a conversation and waiting for your turn to speak, and anyone who has heard the Viper cut a promo over the past 10 years knows that conversation is not his strong suit.
There was little in the way of memorable action until the finish. With Rusev floored by the vintage draping DDT, Orton starts doing his stupid wake-up taunt only for Rusev to grab Randy’s wrists and wriggle up into position for the Accolade. This was a cool and inventive response to a move that should be well scouted at this point, which of course means that Randy is able to wriggle free of that and then put Handsome Rusev down with a single RKO. Rusev, being a consummate professional, sells it like a champ — nearly spiking himself in an effort to give the most over move in wrestling its due. For the love of god, I hope this is the end of this feud. I don’t know what to do with Randy, though honestly, I don’t know what you can do with him. He honestly should take a cue from Brock Lesnar and go part time. Let the crowd forget that we’ve seen essentially the same match from Orton for the past decade (hard considering he is #5 on the list of most PPV matches of all time) and enjoy him as a special attraction rather than the workhorse of the blue brand. For Rusev? LET HIM WIN SOME DAMN MATCHES YA JERKS!
Tye Dillinger vs. Baron Corbin vs. AJ Styles (c) for the United States Championship
While it may have been a transparent move to avoid Styles from having to eat a pin, adding Tye Dillinger to the proceedings really saved this match. Don’t get me wrong, AJ Styles is an elite level performer who could carry a bag of flour to a three-star match, but his best work comes against smaller, more athletic competition (like Dillinger) rather than lumbering powerhouse performers (like Corbin). Dillinger also added a much needed boost of energy to the matchup, as having two agile competitors to toss around helped him work his familiar, deliberate offense without all the resting between spots that kills the crowd. To his eternal credit, this was a really strong performance for Barry C, as he controlled most of the proceedings from bell to bell. It’s just a shame that they switched out his theme song (rumor has it someone whose name rhymes with Blintz Mcstan thought the motorcycle rev at the beginning of Superhuman was a little too close to Dean Ambrose’s Retaliation), because not only does his new theme suck, it ruined his entrance. It was bad enough when he ditched the super bright lights, but now his rising “I caught a fish this big” pose has no sonic cue to speak of and just looks kind of silly.
As I implied earlier, this match is far better than had been anticipated and though I do give a lot of the credit to having an athletic third wheel like Dillinger (who announcers claim is making his WWE PPV debut; so I guess Royal Rumble appearances don’t count), this is really Corbin’s match. Dude wails on both smaller men for most of the bout, even catching AJ on the top rope before he can hit the phenomenal forearm and turning it into an awesome chokeslam backbreaker. Styles gets in some inventive spots as well, with he and Dillinger’s sequence of finisher exchanges. Tye gets AJ up for the Tyebreaker, but Styles wriggles out and turns a back body drop attempt into a Styles Clash. Tye turns it into a headscissor takedown before AJ can drop, but the Phenomenal One grabs Dillinger’s leg and beautifully transitions into a Calf Crusher — which Corbin is able to pull Dillinger away from before the tapout. The finisher exchanges come pretty fast and loose at this point, with the end happening when AJ hits Tye with the Phenomenal Forearm only for Corby to run in, boot Styles out of the ring and make the pin himself for his first championship in the company.
Some may be put off by the finish, but I like the ending of the match. You don’t want AJ looking weak (though he could put over Corbin in a triple threat and still be AJ Frickin’ Styles) and the loss doesn’t do much to hurt Tye (who frankly, was just lucky to be there). For Corbin, however, this is big. After all the rumors of his backstage heat, seeing him get one up on the competition is a welcome change. On Talking Smack, AJ implied that he’d be calling in his rematch clause on this Tuesday’s SmackDown Live — a match I assume Barry will win in a way that sets up AJ’s next feud. Whether the big man will flourish with the title is another story altogether. With the events later in the evening, the only midcard face challenger that Corbin didn’t already trounce tonight is Bobby Roode, who has a bad case of the Ziggles. Maybe he’ll work through a string of jobbers before a legit challenger comes forward, maybe he’ll fart around with Tye for a while longer. In the meantime, I think the US title is a good look for Corbin. Let’s see how he handles this before we cast any judgments about any loftier aspirations the former offensive guard may have.
Charlotte vs. Natalya (c) for the SmackDown Women’s Championship
Though Randy and Rusev was a bore, this match was the first on the card to approach actively bad. I could blame a number of things, like a lack of physical logic or poor pacing, but — and I hate foisting blame on a performer — the real issue is Natalya. Natty is just not someone to build your women’s division around. Her wrestling skills may have been notable when she was facing off with bikini models and softcore porn stars like Candice Michelle and Ashley Masaro, but against Charlotte Flair she looks like a first year wrestling student struggling to keep up. Maybe that’s why they booked the match to be a systematic attack on the Queen’s knee rather than anything technical. It’s a shame, really, because Charlotte’s first match of any renown was against Ms. Neidhart for the NXT Women’s Championship, and I’m not sure if I view this as a degeneration in one performer, the growth in skill of another or a combination of the two.
There’s not really much to talk about between the bells either. Natty controls most of the proceedings, Charlotte gets in some offense, rinse repeat. Once Charlotte starts getting some actual momentum in the match, even “hitting” her trademark moonsault (arguably the best in the business) to Natty on the outside. I say “hitting” because she just barely grazes Natalya’s shoulder and seems to hit the ground harder than she probably should have. Before we can dwell on the maneuver for too long, Natty has grabbed a chair and smacks Charlotte in the knee to draw the disqualification. She actually hesitates before the initial shot which sort of kills a lot of the emotional (and literal) impact of the blow, but whatever. At least this thing was short.
From what I gather on social media, Natty seems like a good person, so I don’t take any real joy in ragging on her, but as a performer she needs to go. She needs to recede into the Mickie James spot of “established star here to put younger talent over.” Shoot, Mickie is only three years older, a better wrestler and a MUCH better promo than Natalya ever was, yet she’s over on Raw getting mulched by Emma and Alexa Bliss. Why is Natty on the blue brand earning clean wins over Becky Lynch and Naomi?
Charlotte deserves better than this. She is the most accomplished of the Four Horsewomen and an elite athlete who continually ups her game and move set to stay ahead of the trends. One thing she is not, however, is a natural babyface. I get that she needs to play that role because they already cycled through Becky and Naomi as top face, but the Queen is a natural heel, and she should be allowed to be her best. I know the WWE doesn’t like to do heel-vs-heel matches, but I think Charlotte running roughshod over even the schlub heels (like Tamina and Carmella) is a more fitting role for Ms. Flair than good natured drinker of fake tea.
Looks like we’re starting a new season of the Fashion Files, and the Ascension have now moved on to the main cast! Good for those two fellas; it’s gotta be hard to be a metal-themed Eddie Money fan with sewn together lips looking for friends, so hopefully Breezy and Dango come around. The skit was okay, but the better news is what comes next as it looks like we’re in for a few weeks of Tarantino spoofs because Pulp Fashion is coming.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Jinder Mahal (c) for the WWE Championship
What the hell is WWE doing with Shinsuke Nakamura? So here we are, watching arguably the biggest star to ever come out of New Japan Pro Wrestling and NXT, a man with multiple five star matches from Dave Meltzer, and international phenomenon whose unique presence and style have transcended language and culture, lose his second consecutive match to the worst member of 3MB. Is the rupee super strong? Does the Indian population drop serious coin on wrestling merch? Is Jinder secretly the leader of the thuggee cult that has threatened to rip out Shane’s heart and sacrifice it to Khali? I just don’t get why you would sacrifice a star like Nakamura to protect a barely mobile effigy of gynecomastia. If you really wanted to court the Indian people, why make their sole representatives on your show villainous cheaters and cowards? Maybe I just don’t understand the wrestling business, but I do know the expressions “cutting off the nose to spite the face” and “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” both of which may have some relevance for whoever’s booking this shit.
This is essentially the same as their SummerSlam bout, only with an infuriating couple of seconds taped onto the end to make the inevitable result even more infuriating. So like last time, Shinsuke controls most of a slow, unremarkable match where Jinder’s moveset is almost entirely strikes and rest holds, breaks out and appears to have things won until the Singhs interfere to create a distraction that leads to Nakamura eating a Khallas and being pinned like a chump. That the Singhs get ejected late in the match, distracting the ref from a pinned Jinder, only to miss his second attempt at a Kinshasa before he gets hit by the laziest Cobra Clutch slam since Ted DiBiase Jr.’s Dream Street is worse because it makes for an arguably clean win for the Modern Day Maharaja. When Randy lost consecutive matches to Jinder Mahal, most of us in the IWC didn’t bat an eye. Orton’s a first ballot Hall of Famer and a veritable living legend — dude could eat a loss to James Elsworth and still have his reputation with the fans. You know who doesn’t have that? Shinsuke Nakamura. Even counting his time in NXT, he’s still an unproven commodity for the WWE Universe and you have him laying down for a guy that spent literally every day of his career before he became champion as a jobber.
I just don’t know what they’re going for here. You can’t blame it all on Jinder of course, but house show attendance during his entirely too-long reign (He’s been WWE champion longer than AJ Styles, Mick Foley, and Ric Flair among others) and I can’t imagine those Modern Day Maharaja shirts are flying off shelves (especially considering the lack of effort put in these designs). I also doubt all the controversy surrounding his racist promo a few weeks back (probably the only time anyone has ever spoken about a Jinder Mahal promo after the fact) is moving the needle on Network subs, so what’s the endgame here? We know the SmackDown crew will be touring India in December, so if you’re going to hold the WWE Title hostage until that big show in Bangalore, why put Jinder in there with your biggest up-and-coming star? You could have easily given Sami Zayn this spot and achieved the same thing without hurting either Sami or Shinsuke. Instead the WWE is asking fans to believe in a guy whose only statement PPV wins on the main roster have been against Dolph Ziggler (the official main roster welcoming committee for NXT superstars) and Baron Corbin (whose only main roster PPV singles wins were also against Ziggler). Maybe Vince just doesn’t like money.
Bobby Roode vs. Dolph Ziggler
Hey, did you forget this match was happening? Sure seems like the crowd did. Short of the singalong surrounding Bobby’s much celebrated entrance, the crowd sat on their hands for this snoozer, and to be honest, I can’t blame them. This was a boring match. Nothing really happened. Sure, both guys put in their signature spots here, and the ending totally made Bobby look weak in victory, but the thing most people will be talking about is Roode’s unfortunate choice of white trunks making it look like he was wrestling in a diaper all night. There was one point of interest in the beginning, as Ziggler’s entrance was worth passing mention. After some build and speculation about what kind of nonsense Dolph was going to pull out, there was merely a record scratch five seconds into “Here to show the World,” a blacked out TitanTron and Ziggler’s silent walk to the ring. Personally, I think it was a smart move from a conceptual stance — it just would’ve been a lot more effective if Zigglypuff was producing the negative crowd response that they’re clearly going for here. Instead, the silent approach to the ring just feels a little awkward.
To say that this match was unremarkable is an understatement. This match wouldn’t even make the main event of an episode of SmackDown Live, both because of the lack of promotion and starpower and the underwhelming performances from the two men in the ring. Seriously, this thing was dull enough to provoke chants of “Little Cesars” from the crowd. When a $5 Hot-n-Ready pizza is prompting more enthusiasm from your crowd than Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler, you know something is fundamentally wrong. The match is also light on memorable spots, with the only notable moment being Roode turning a superkick into a splendid spinebuster that ALMOST pops the crowd. Bobby notices the moment and roars to the crowd which…is also met with silence. Seriously, the crowd could not give any less of a shit. The end comes with a series of rollups that ends with Roode getting the win with a handful of tights, standing up and immediately getting Zig Zagged. Ziggler walks to the back as Roode’s music plays over the speakers and it looks like this feud will continue.
Not a lot to say about this one. This is a bad way to start Bobby Roode’s run on the main roster and does nothing for the struggling Ziggler, whose new gimmick as a spoiled troll is really not landing with fans. Obviously we’re going to be seeing more between these two, but the WWE is really going to have to convince the fans that there’s anything worth watching here. As of now, there’s just nothing to prevent the WWE Universe from hitting the snack bar whenever “Glorious Domination” hits the PA.
Kevin Owens vs. Shane McMahon(Hell in a Cell match)
This was certainly the most memorable match of the evening, but while it was good, it was entirely too long. This match goes for nearly 40 minutes and though it does have a lot of good-to-great moments, there’s plenty of stretching for time. I get that Shane likely needs a breather after a couple of high-impact spots, but there was so much padding for time that there were moments that people started to lose interest. That didn’t last, of course, because there were enough crazy moments to draw eyes back on the ring whenever the crowd’s phones started to come out. After a brief melee outside of the cage that see’s KO chucking Shane into the barrier a bunch, the action moves inside….where KO tosses Shane into the cage a bunch. At one point he starts kicking Shane’s ass in front of his kids, who don’t protect kayfabe at all when the camera pans to them laughing as their dad gets his shit wrecked. Shane gets back into it with a nice float-over DDT, and follows it up with his butt-ugly shooting star press which misses, allowing KO to hit his frog splash for 2. Shane avoids a powerbomb attempt by grabbing a really sloppy triangle hold, which prompts Owens to drag him outside and slam him on the steel steps. Big Kev, in his ugly new Seth Rollins gear, sets up Shane on a table in the corner only to go through it himself with a failed Cannonball from the apron. This allows Shane some time to wear out KO with a chair, hit a sweet Coast to Coast with a trashcan, and get a nearfall on the big man. Shane then grabs a pair of bolt cutters, struggles to open the chain on the cage door, then heads outside to brawl with the Quebec Kodiak some more.
This all heads exactly where everyone knew it would: the top of the cage. After Owens flattens Shane and lays him on the Spanish announce table, he climbs the cage and teases coming off the top several times before a rejuvenated McMahon can climb to the top of the cage himself. Once they hit the roof, the second half of the match starts and the crowd notably shifts. While there were the typical chants throughout the first half (your “This is awesome” and “You still got it” chants), for the entire period atop the cage the chants were replaced with a concerned murmur. They must have really reinforced the cage roof, because it stood up to a ton of punishment between the two From Shane’s Side Russian Leg Sweep to KO’s brutal Senton, every bump caused a pang of fear in the crowd that they were about to see something awful happen. That’s why for most people (besides the bloodthirsty crowd), Owens starting to climb down the side was a great relief. Of course, Shane caught up to him and knocked him off the side and through the announce table from about 15 feet in the air (as opposed to the 20+ from the top of the cage). It was a much safer spot, but still looked devastating – especially because Owens bounced off the table! Shane then loaded Owens onto the English announce table and climbed back up the stage, because there’s no way in hell Shane doesn’t jump off some crazy shit in a cage match. So Shane psyches himself up and jumps off the cage to deliver his elbow drop, only for Sami Zayn of all people to appear like a guardian angel and help his buddy out of the way as Shane plummets through the table. Zayn then pushes Owens onto Shane for the pin and the win. Wow.
I guess WWE thought that by booking the best parts of the show at the very beginning and the very end that fans would leave thinking they enjoyed the show. To their credit, it may have worked, because most of what I’ve read has been pretty positive about what would’ve been a D- PPV if not for the two cage matches. Of the two, this was the weaker in-ring effort (which should be obvious given one of its competitors is a 47-year-old executive, not a wrestler), but it will definitely have the most buzz about it. Personally, I don’t think what Sami did is technically a turn, as the good hearted doormat saving his former best friend from potentially dying at ringside seems like a fairly face move. Whether or not he’s going to be a guy with bad motivations on Tuesday I don’t know, but he will be treated as a villain by the show’s writers before long because Shane has all but been canonized in the WWE at this point. How they’ll make us not like a dude that comes off as the nicest guy in the world, I’m not sure, but one fan on Twitter put it best:
Only in WWE does a guy setting up Syrian mobile clinics become a villain by stopping the son of a Trump cabinet member from murder. #HIAC
— Tom. (@NotThatTomGreen) October 9, 2017