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

With Battleground on the way, it’s all too easy for Smackdown! Live to roll out empty patriotism

Illustration for article titled With Battleground on the way, it’s all too easy for Smackdown! Live to roll out empty patriotism

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: Jimmy Uso defeated Kofi Kingston; Mike Kanellis defeated Sami Zayn; Becky Lynch defeated Charlotte; Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin defeated AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura.
  • Because Smackdown! Live knows that approximately three or four people are interested in Battleground‘s Punjabi Prison Match—and I’m including the competitors in that estimate—the show gets the reveal of the structure out of the way immediately. It’s a point that’s been made many times before, but it is fascinating how little interest WWE seems to have in their own “major” title. Outside of the opening segment, which sees the Singh Brothers and Jinder Mahal explain the rules of the match—because that’s how you get a crowd popping to start the show—until Randy Orton comes out and says how much he’s looking forward to beating Jinder because he got in his dad’s face or something, there’s practically no build up to Sunday’s match. It feels like Smackdown! Live knows where the draw is, and it’s not with Mahal and Orton. It’s the third most hyped match on the card.
  • With that said, while I can’t say I’m in any way invested in the feud, I appreciate Orton’s promo tonight from a character standpoint. He makes it clear that Jinder has made two potentially fatal mistakes: he’s locked himself inside a structure with a man who calls himself the Viper, the very man who picks people apart when he has them isolated and on the ropes. On top of that, Orton points out that Mahal’s taken away the Singh Brothers as a factor, which is the one advantage that’s allowed him to both win and retain the WWE Championship on separate occasions. I certainly wouldn’t count out Singh interference just yet, but I like that Orton is getting in Mahal’s head by flipping the script, saying that a Punjabi Prison Match actually favors him instead of Mahal.
  • Jimmy Uso vs. Kofi Kingston is a good reminder that Kofi brings a lot to a singles match. He’s so dynamic here, busting out interesting, unique moves, all while sticking with everything that’s made New Day so successful. Kofi doing the rotating corner stomps all on his own was a delightful touch.
  • Considering WWE’s ability to forget that certain wrestlers ever knew each other or worked together, I was kind of worried that Smackdown! Live wouldn’t address the breaking news from Raw on Monday: that not only is Jason Jordan now a member of the Red brand, he’s also Kurt Angle’s son. Thankfully, Renee sits down with Chad Gable to talk about the revelation. It’s a perfectly fine interview, with Gable expressing shock and then support for his former tag team partner, but I’m somewhat disappointed that the two won’t be on the same brand to explore the fallout. American Alpha had been stagnating for months, and something as explosive and personal as this would have been great fuel for not only a tag team breakup, but a Chad Gable heel turn.
  • It’s difficult to have much to say about Mike Kanellis’ first match on Smackdown! Live. The booking follows the typical template for introducing an obnoxious heel couple, with Mike barely getting any offense in, and Maria helping him get a sneaky win over Sami Zayn. It is what it is, but I will never be okay with Zayn being relegated to anything outside the main event picture. #PushSami, forever.
  • It looks like the Fashion Files mystery is coming to an end at Battleground. Thankfully, this week’s show gives us one more brilliant installment in the current case. This time around it’s The X-Files getting the tonal nod. The bit is, as usual, filled with jokes that range from the absurd to the genuinely smart. “Don’t sully my search for Tully, Scully,” is a great line, but I think my favorite part is perhaps the simplest as well: the traditional “I Want To Believe” poster now reading “I Want To Bo-lieve.”
  • Before their main event tag team match, Styles tries to talk strategy with Nakamura. Nak is having none of it though. In fact, he only has one message, and it’s a doozy. He says that one day when Styles makes the call for a challenger to his United States Championship, Nakamura will be there to answer. Smackdown! Live is playing these two perfectly. They’re both gigantic babyfaces that are over with the crowd, but they also represent your main event draw for the next few years. They have to lock up at some point, and teasing that, both at Money In The Bank and from week to week on Smackdown! Live, keeps that intrigue alive. Both guys have a mutual respect for one another, but that doesn’t mean they won’t throw down with a title on the line. Like Zayn-Nakamura from NXT Takeover: Dallas, there’s no limit to how emotionally powerful, and technically astonishing, a match these two could put on at a future PPV.
  • This week’s main event sees Nakamura and Styles working together for now, but perhaps more impressive is the team of Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin. The match itself is exactly what you’d expect out of a Smackdown! Live tag team main event, but the predictability doesn’t mean it isn’t compelling. Owens and Corbin are cut from the same heel cloth, and they delight in stomping their opponents into the ground and shouting in their faces whenever they get the chance. At one point Corbin tags Owens and the two execute a stomp and a punch at the same time. “That was simultaneous! Did you see that?” shouts Owens, once again confirming that nobody on Smackdown! Live is better at talking, both on the mic and in the ring, than he is. In fact, the only guy on the entire main roster who could maybe give him a run for his money is Samoa Joe. I’d watch an entire program of those two cutting into each other…followed by the return of Y2J.
  • Anyways, Owens gets the pinfall here after he executes a blind tag and hits Styles with a superkick and a popup powerbomb, setting up what should be a truly special match at Battleground. Both Styles and Owens carried their respective brands last year, and it’s nice to see them getting a ton of time on Smackdown! Live to continue their incredible work.
  • But now, on to some not so incredible work: Rusev vs. John Cena in a Flag Match at Battleground. If the nationalistic tones of the Mahal-Orton feud seem rather dated—or perhaps perfectly and unfortunately encapsulating of our current political climate—you’d have to have a New Day Time Machine to travel back to when any of the rhetoric surrounding this feud could make a meaningful impact. Building a feud with emotional resonance requires nuance, and there isn’t a shred of it here. Instead, Cena is out here mentioning everything from the Civil War to 9/11 in order to rile up the crowd in favor of his patriotism. But when everything is invoked as a source of pride or some sort of symbol of shared history, it ends up meaning nothing. When your promo talks about carrying the weight of historical expectations and invokes the Twin Towers falling, there’s nowhere left for the stakes to go. All you’re left with is empty symbolism, which is no symbolism at all. Get ready for a red, white, and blue mess at Battleground on Sunday.