I occasionally get asked about writing and reviewing wrestling, or more to the point, why I don't do it to the degree that I did years ago. This usually leads to the question if I am still a wrestling fan. The answer to that is that yes, I would say that I still like wrestling. It is kind of hard to completely erase something that you were obsessed and loved in your younger years. There is a bit of a nostalgic charge that flows through me.
I do not watch WWE on a weekly basis anymore. To be honest, I barely ever watch WWE ever and am only vaguely aware of current storylines and there are several newer wrestlers that I couldn't tell you who they were if I was given a hundred guesses. But there is a wrestling writer that I really enjoy, so I often read his stuff, so I do have a little bit of knowledge of what is currently happening even if I don't watch it. Though he also is disenfranchised with the state of WWE, so most of his reviews are either older shows or the major current Pay-Per-View shows, so I am not reading anything about the weekly shows.
Wrestlemania, the biggest wrestling show of the year, just happened this past weekend, and traditionally that mean the proceeding shows of that week end up being the biggest non PPV shows of the year. They tend to be where new stars debut, surprise title changes happen, many major angle developments and events that trigger the major stories of the next year. It is usually the one show that is worth checking out even during a time where I have lost most of my interest in following modern WWE.
The word on the street is Smackdown is now the bigger show than Raw, because it is on Fox, which is a giant network that draws more ratings and advertisers than USA. They tend to stack up that show and treat it like the more important destination of the week. I decided through the magic of PVR and being able to fast forward through any dull bits that I would check out what had potential to be a huge show.
And if this was stacking up a show and making it a bigger deal than normal, then I now know why I almost never watch WWE. It was 100% just fine. There was nothing on this show that made me think that 'oh boy, why haven't I been watching WWE every single week. I've wasted my life.' No, it was more, 'Huh? I guess shows after Wrestlemania aren't a big deal anymore, but at least it was less painful than drilling out a cavity with a Black and Decker power drill.'
What I have heard is that Roman Reign as the tribal chief, the head of the table and the Universal champion has become all kinds of awesome and has been carrying the show as the number one heel and star of the company. He kicked off this show escorted by his entourage of 'Main Event' Jey Uso and Paul Heyman to brag about crushing his opponents, Edge and Danial Bryan, in the Wrestlemania main event. To sell how much he really devastated them, neither guy was even on the show this week, which I think was a smart touch. Reigns has a pure superstar presence now and is way more captivating than when they were trying to make him the heroic babyface a few years ago. This Reigns has a swagger and cockiness, and his quick little in-ring promo instantly sold him as a huge deal and superstar.
I love how he ended the interview saying he made his appearance and it is time to cut his cheque and the fans got their look at the main star, so he was going to go now. It was the perfect cocky heel delivery and if they were actually in front of a live crowd instead of monitors and piped crowd noise, it would have got a great heel reaction. Fans cheer heels but we don't like when they make it seem like they are just in it for the money and phoning in a performance. Plus, sometimes you got to boo to show your appreciation for a guy working so hard to be a conceited dick, even if you kind of love him for his work.
Before Reigns could take his well-deserved night off, he was interrupted by Cesaro, who has been a solid midcard act for at least a decade now. The idea is that he has his huge breakout Wrestlemania moment pinning Seth Rollins who at least a few years ago was being groomed to be one of the faces of the company. The announcer Michael Cole and newcomer Pac McAfee (who was a former NFL punter) really sold that it was a big win and Cesaro is now ready to enter into the main event.
One of WWE's big problems and why I stopped watching was their lack of interest in making new stars or elevating people who were catching on with fans. I know Cesaro is someone that has had his fans for years now and he is a hell of an entertaining star, but there is a part of me that feels he has suffered too many stop and start pushes, and been stuck in the midcard for too long and is now definitely getting on the older side to really be able to get over at the main event level. If WWE is serious about making him a top star, then he does have the talent to prove me wrong.
Reigns doesn't think Cesaro is worth his time. In a very funny and perfectly cocky heel moment, Cesaro entered the ring to stare down Reigns and then grabbed a mic to make his challenge, Reign shrugged his shoulders and left the ring with his crew before Cesaro had a chance to say a word. I was not expecting that, because usually these openings run twenty minutes with both guys yelling at each other and setting up the match. It was totally in the Reigns character that he wouldn't give this guy the time of day and rather just pack his bags out of here. The best part was just Reigns' mannerism and how he just felt this was all a waste of his time. Of course, you know he was hiding the fact that he was kind of scared of Cesaro as his challenger.
It was a great kick-off to the show and a great way to set-up Cesaro as the underdog challenger that must prove himself and kind of take a Rocky-like path to get his shot at the larger-than-life challenger. The fact Cesaro was denied saying anything and Reign no sold him, it made him more sympathetic and added interest to the story.
If there is going to be a story. And that is my first problem with this show. I fast forward through large portions of the show to save time and one thing that has almost always proved pointless and mind-numbing has been the backstage segments. I blew through almost all of them. I sort of assumed that the opening segment was going to be setting up either a main event tag match or Reign's right-hand man, Jey Uso going up against Cesaro in the main event. I didn't need to see contrived backstage segments to know the endgame. So, I don't know how Cesaro was sold in the backstage moments or if there were hints towards a big title match for the future. I do know that Cesaro vs. Jey Uso turned out to be the main event of the night.
It was a pretty decent match because both guys are really talented. Uso tried taking down Cesaro with high-risk flying moves and Cesaro tossed the lighter Uso all around the ring. It was what gets called a perfectly fine TV match, which means they aren't pulling off any big stops or telling some epic story, but two talented guys go through the formula to create something that is entertaining enough. They usually save the big stuff for PPVs and some occasional big TV matches.
But then the ending hit. After all night on commentary hearing about how Cesaro had his big moment beating Rollins and setting him up as the next challenger for Reigns, we get a run-in finish leading to a DQ. But not from the Universal Champion but rather from Rollins who apparently was offended Cesaro was doing the giant swing, because that was a move used against him. That is a stupid story if they are going with Rollins traumatized by a wrestling move since he takes them for a living. But the dumber thing is being told constantly that Cesaro broke out by beating a big star and teasing him being in line for a title shot, but then knocking us right back to where we must have been a week ago.
Rollins attacked and laid out Cesaro. Show ended with Rollins screaming how he isn't finished with Cesaro. There was no mention of Reigns or any sign, he was concerned about Cesaro at the show end. Maybe this is setting up Rollins vs. Cesaro next week with the winner getting Reigns at Backlash. But it felt like Cesaro being knocked off the mountain after being set-up as a potential main eventer. Rather than setting up the next big stories for the year, it went through the motions and stuck with the status quo. Cesaro as world title challenger -- nah, just put him back against Rollins.
The thud of the ending capped off a 'meh' of a show. There were no debuting stars. There were no hot new angles. As far as a fan who isn't really following WWE very closely, nothing major happened on a show that is usually sold as one that shakes stuff up. Maybe they are saving stuff for when they can have live crowds, or maybe they just are directionless. Or maybe the fact they just sold the WWE Network for billions to the Peacock streaming service and have hefty guaranteed money in their TV deals with Fox and USA that they just don't give much of a damn of pushing themselves creatively to hook fans. They have their money, so time to churn out the content.
The lack of any energy or anything really major happening after their biggest PPV of the year, really did make this feel like 'churning out content' for two hours. Except the magic of PVR meant it was much less than two hours for me.
What I can say is that the wrestling is strong, and they have some great athletes. Even if nobody is trying to blow you away and that no interesting stories are being set-up, the in-ring product is solid and is light years better than the two-minute specials we got served up during the WWF Attitude Era that most hold up as a peak time in WWF and was the time they were the ratings king and wrestling as a whole was part of the cultural zeitgeist.
The Smackdown Tag Titles match between champions The Dirty Dawgs, who are Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode, against The Street Profit, who I had to Google to discover are Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford, was a really strong tag match. Roode and Dawkins are the big power men, and Ford and Ziggler play the perfect high-flyer role. The match was really well-paced, and it had decent high-spots that created a match with a great flow and demonstrated why I love tag wrestling. It also built up enough drama that I thought Profit may win the titles, but the dastardly heels pulled it off after the infamous blind tag. Ford has a crazy great frog splash too, that I did think was going to end the match before Ziggler saved. Ziggler snuck in the ring to finish with his Zig Zag (according to Google). I assume this is the blow-off, but no new challengers were set-up for The Dirty Dawgs. I had to use Google to discover it is Dawgs rather than Dogs. I can't fault them on that considering I've gone as SpiceDawg for many screen names.
The other big highlight of the show was a celebration for the new Smackdown Women's champion Bianca Belair who defeated former champion Sasha Banks in the title match and main event of the first night of Wrestlemania. The announcers pushed how historic this was because it was two black women in the main event of Wrestlemania battling for the women's title, which was the first time for both those things. I question if this was the first title match between two black women because WWE tends to ignore facts when spouting these things, but it was the first time two black women were in the main event of any WWE PPV. Though they really only main evented Wrestlemania because they split it into two nights, so there were two show closing main events this year.
I also get slightly annoyed when the WWE that is run by a lifelong conservative and Republican and even had his wife in the previous administration will push these progressive achievements that I don't think he really cares about except when it is good for their publicity. WWE never wastes a chance to pat themselves on their back. Like I said, I am not really sure if Wrestlemania was even the first time two black women fought for a women's title -- unless they were meaning this specific women's title that I think has only been around for a few years (even then, I am not sure if it is true).
This is not to take away from what was a really cool moment and promo. The Street Profits introduce her to a ring that was done up with blue and white balloons and sang a song to praise her accomplishments. Google tells me Ford is Belair's husband, which explains some of the things he says. This is definitely a scene that would have played out even better before a live crowd, but it was cool to see Belair appear to be genuinely moved and appreciative about being the new women's champion and in the Wrestlemania main event. I love it when the wrestlers seemed to be touched that they have become a champion and it helps make the titles seem like a huge deal.
The whole segment was sweet and sincere, and it worked because Belair seemed to be talking from the heart rather than it being a scripted promo. She radiated star power. I also like that they just let it be her moment rather than the usual of someone interrupting to set-up the next challenger. Instead, they did some backstage promos where both Banks and Bayley made it clear they want the title. I guess, we will have a three-way feud here.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn had a fun little match and both guys have great chemistry with each other since they've been wrestling each other for a hundred years and are real life best friends. It was a stupid finish where Zayn got himself counted out on purpose and then Owens dragged him back in to stun him. I guess, this feud must continue. There is some stupid story where Zayn think there is a conspiracy against him, and he is making a documentary to prove it. Or something. The push where the guy is always losing never helps him and usually it is just lots of TV time to bury and kill a career. Hopefully, this leads to something good for Zayn, because he is really talented and has oodles of charisma. I have to say I probably couldn't care less about the direction of this story, though.
The other two matches where throwaway stuff that was again just going through the motions of stories that should have been blown off already. Rey Mysterio beat Otis in a fine but nothing memorable match. Natayala beat Shayna Baszler with the stupid overdone roll up finish when Baszler almost collided with her tag team partner. It looks like they are building towards Baszler breaking up with her partner Nia Jax, so I assume they will be losing the women's tag team titles soon.
The other big point is that Pat McAfee is totally fine as the new color commentator. They kind of had him as a heel where he praised Reigns and believed Zayn's conspiracies, but he also was a fan of the Belair moment which was a face response. He wasn't irritating or doesn't have any annoying catchphrases yet. He didn't quite have chemistry with Cole, but this was their first time. One of the things WWE has been horrible at in the last ten years is announcers, so by that standard he is good. He will only improve. He also seems to actually know wrestling and be passionate about it. It isn't just a case of grabbing a celebrity or known sports analyst that doesn't know anything about wrestling. No Jeff Harvey incidents here. He knew the storylines and didn't detract from the show.
But I don't think I'll be going out of my way to watch Smackdown or any newer WWE shows any time soon. This was the definition of fine and again, that isn't a great sign when it is expected they load up the post-Wrestlemania shows. If this was their best, then I don't want to see their by the numbers shows.
Do you guys like this style of review for wrestling? Do you want me to occasionally review wrestling? If this does decent reader numbers, then I may look at digging out my old wrestling tapes and reviewing older shows that I've got a nostalgic itch. I also have liked what I saw from AEW and may review Dynamite weekly if there is a desire for wrestling reviews here.
I actually taped a lot of the WWF Superstars shows from the 1980s, which were what turned me into a fan. I'd be up for reviewing those especially if there was interest from reader to go down that specific memory lane.
WWF Friday Night Smackdown Results: