Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Before the shake-up, say hello to “the SmackDown after WrestleMania

Baron Corbin (left), Dean Ambrose
Baron Corbin (left), Dean Ambrose

Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Results: Naomi (c) defeated Alexa Bliss (SmackDown! Live Women’s Championship); a debuting Tye Dillinger defeated Curt Hawkins; Baron Corbin defeated Dean Ambrose (Street Fight); Randy Orton and Luke Harper defeated The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt and Erick Rowan)
  • Will “the SmackDown after WrestleMania” be “a thing” now? SmackDown now deserves to be treated with the same amount of importance as RAW is when it comes to this type of thing, but I should also address the “show after WrestleMania” crowd antics: There is a beach ball present in this week’s SmackDown, but the show never really gets to a “RAW after WrestleMania” level of fan pandemonium. There’s no wave, and the 95% of the chants are about what’s actually happening on the show. So I’m absolutely fine with that. But now for a lot to talk about this show, because this is “the SmackDown after WrestleMania” after all.
  • For all the talk from Vince McMahon and WWE about the company being about storytelling and entertainment first (least after making money), things like their “Bizarro World” and “non-traditional fan” disclaimers for these post-WrestleMania shows are the ultimate show of hypocrisy and, honestly, just an absolute hindrance to said storytelling. I’m old enough (as it was only the early 2000s) to remember when WWE would refer to Canada as “Bizarro World,” specifically for booing Shawn Michaels (because of the Montreal Screwjob) and John Cena (Jim Ross, sadly, coined the term “traditional fans” as code for anti-Cena fans at WrestleMania 22). Now, JBL is stumbling over his words trying to explain this when it never actually matters as “damage control” or whatever they’re trying to do. By the way, no one this week boos anyone they’d normally cheer or cheers who they’d normally boo. In fact, this week is probably the first time there’s was no actual conflict between character dynamic and fan opinion. Except for when it comes to Roman Reigns, of course, the first “heel” ever who—for some reason—only fights heels and gets lauded by the babyface commentators. Even Sheamus and Randy Orton are cheered, and if you remember their more never-ending feud times, this is a miracle. But truly, WWE choose this week to provide a carny excuse for why a crowd is… actually reacting to WWE shows instead of sitting on their hands. Think about that: This weekly, live entertainment program has decided it needs to excuse why its audience is reacting to the show and why they’re excited for new debuts. Apparently, next week, it’ll be normal not to care about Nakamura or Tye Dillinger, because we’ll be back to “traditional,” silent crowds. Cognitive dissonance, thy name is World Wrestling Entertainment. WWE needs to make up its mind and decide if “any reaction” is what they want or if no reaction is their desire.
  • I also remember when Street Fight attire was jeans and a tank top, so thanks to Ambrose and Harper for ruining that expectation.
  • I considered the Ambrose/Corbin and Wyatt/Orton matches to be the most underwhelming* matches on the WrestleMania card, but when it comes to the aftermath and continuation of both stories, I have different thoughts on both. (*Technically, the Roman Reigns/Undertaker match would be join them in that underwhelming category for me, because I was truly indifferent during that entire situation. But for more Roman Reigns takes, please read Kyle Fowle’s Monday Night RAW reviews and try not to get too intimidated by his mentions of you getting “worked” in one way or another. I’m clearly assuming no one is reading this at this point.) On the Ambrose/Corbin front, this SmackDown’s Street Match is 100% the match they should have had at WrestleMania. Do not blame the kickoff show for neutering that match, because Neville and Austin Aries stole the show with the first damn match on the 16-hour card. Ambrose/Corbin’s WrestleMania match simply had no business being a standard one-on-one match, as the feud is based around attempted murder, but the writing was on the wall when their go-home confrontation promo was cut for time and put on Talking Smack. This show’s match is a gift, especially when the first return from commercial break reveals a bunch of chairs and a table already tossed into the ring. That’s what this feud should be.
  • Now for the Wyatt/Orton match. I’ve been a fan of this entire feud from pretty much the beginning, and I’ve been all-in since Randy joined The Wyatt Family… until that Luke Harper star-making aspect of the story ended up being a detour instead of a natural progression toward a Triple Threat match at WrestleMania. But I still held out hope because of an invigorated Randy Orton being the best version of Randy Orton. But that match at WrestleMania was not good. And you know what? The “magic” aspect of the match and even the crappy animated snake in Orton’s entrance weren’t the problem. Those things actually fit the story, and they were much closer to an organic version of a “BROKEN” Wyatt story than that awful “Compound Fracture” segment. But the match was uninspired, short, and the problem isn’t even that Orton won. Because if he’d had a good match with Bray (or with Bray and Luke, which would’ve been more possible), the title win—as frustrating as it would’ve been for a Bray supporter—could have made some sense. Especially since this whole story is part of a long con on a monster like Bray Wyatt, and technically, Orton should win. But the anti-climactic match, the fact that it wasn’t worthy of WrestleMania, the general weakness of all of it to get to the “expected” win of Randy Orton speaks to one thing: WWE touting its existence as a storytelling vehicle when certain stories and narratives are completely driven by their own carny origins. The match (outside of the bug thing) and the win aren’t the culmination of the story that’s been told. They’re the culmination of a wrasslin’ company apologizing for allowing Brock Lesnar to split a talent’s head open at SummerSlam.
  • Failed wrestler David Otunga calls Naomi’s entrance—which he also calls a “dance break”—his “favorite part of the night.” And in case you’re wondering if he’s figured out yet that muscles don’t equal talent, his reaction to The Miz’s Cena cosplay is both that Miz would have to be Cena “minus about 50 pounds of muscle” and that Miz has apparently been hitting Krispy Kreme hard. As for the actual segment, The Miz/Maryse posing as Cena/Nikki is very good, but it’s no Rated RKO as DX or CM Punk as Jeff Hardy. I’m sorry, it’s just not.
  • Shinsuke Nakamura is such a rockstar that he can interrupt a Miz segment—with his own personal violinist—to make his own entrance… and that’s it. There’s no face-off. Miz and Maryse bounce as soon Nakamura’s enters the ring. Because it’s his ring. It’s great. I love it, ballgame, etc.
  • Naomi has an iffy leg, and in her matches, she’s supposed to be selling a leg injury. She kind of does here, though, it’s not great. I’m a broken record—I know—but it’s part of the larger Naomi problem. She’s athletic (both for real and in the way that’s the buzzword for black Superstars), she’s very likable, but when it comes to wrestling psychology, everything comes crumbling down. I’ve been watching and wanting nothing but the best for Naomi since game show NXT season three. You know, the season of NXT where you literally deserved a prize medal for making it through heel Michael Cole’s intense misogyny alongside an already suspect talent pool outside of AJ Lee and Naomi. (I love/loved Kaitlyn, but even she knows her wrestling ability was nonexistent there and she was lucky to have her personality. The same goes for Maxine.) The smartest part of the Bliss/Naomi match is when Bliss prevents Naomi from going for her split-legged moonsault. Because come on, Naomi.
  • Mojo Rawley’s promo about winning the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal is probably the most human Mojo has ever sounded, but at the same time, the promo is all about his dream of partying with Gronk and zombie Andre The Giant. That’s too hype for me. You know the Orlando crowd feels the same too, because Mojo’s kind of booed at the beginning of the promo, but he wins them over by the end. Also, Dasha confirms her own less than human status with her “Not really” response to Mojo’s “Can you feel it?” line of questioning.
  • WWE’s Twitter posted this classic 15-year-old SmackDown moment today, featuring two SmackDown all-time greats who I could watch all day without getting bored. Kurt Angle as RAW General Manager is already great, but I’m never going to forget that Angle is SmackDown royalty, through and through. Had he and Brock been allowed to have a segment together on RAW, I probably would have died before I could even write this piece.
  • “Superstar Shake-Up” is apparently all that matters now, even though no one involved can actually tell us what it’s about. It’s like “Wild Card Finals,” only I’m sure we’ll all be less enthused once it’s over. It’s a draft but not a full draft. That’s it. That’s what we know.
  • Update: Tag teams still don’t exist on SmackDown. You might be thinking, “What about The Wyatt Family,” but technically, they’re a faction (well, cult). And right now, their entire purpose is to serve their singles star, Bray Wyatt. By the way, new mask aside, Erick Rowan is exactly the same in the ring as he was pre-injury. It’s kind of funny—in a sad way—that he’s dropped back to being the worst Wyatt Family member/alumni, as Braun Strowman has gotten amazing over on RAW.
  • The Usos do, however, still exist on Talking Smack. They’re great during their unexpected visit, of course.