Notes from a live Smackdown Live

The last time I was at a Smackdown show was in the summer of 2004. A lot has changed since then, but two things were eerily similar: the WWE Champion was a repackaged tag team loser turned into a xenophobia-rustling cartoon character, and Smackdown still feels like the B-show, even if it’s better than Raw.

These notes are from the 8 August 2017 episode of Smackdown. Actual results are here.

  • It feels like a treat to just see wrestlers live. On TV, they’re larger than life, but live in front of you, the performance is king. It’s easier to follow a match live: there are no distracting camera cuts and no commentary. It’s just you and the wrestlers. This Smackdown was no different, even if there were no real standout matches, it’s still special.
  • Wrestling is objectively just better live. Even wrestlers you barely care about are more interesting in person.
  • I was at Raw last year, and the 3-hour runtime was pretty exhausting by the end. Smackdown seemed to fly by. It wasn’t just that it was only two-hours. Commercial breaks seemed shorter. Each scene felt compact, as if they knew they had a lot of ground to cover and needed to keep it moving.
  • Smackdown and Raw really are both the same length of time for the Live audience: roughly 3 hours of televised wrestling with 1 or 2 untelevised matches. Smackdown’s third hour is dedicated to the cruiserweights on the Network-exclusive 205 Live. It’s a lesser show, and it’s presented after Smackdown. It’s a strange setup, and it feels even stranger in person. 205 feels like it should happen as a prelude to Smackdown.
  • The crowd knew 205 was the lesser show, too, as more than a quarter of the people left just after it began. During the commercial break, the announcer let us know there would be a tag team Main event (AJ Styles & Shinsuke Nakamura vs Kevin Owens & Baron Corbin), and I wonder if they began doing this as a way to keep people around for 205 Live.
  • That tag match was just pure fun, and reminded me that untelevised WWE matches are much looser, safer, and way more fun to watch than most televised WWE matches. WWE has an untelevised show in Toronto again in December, and I’ll be there for that.
  • Naomi has the best entrance in the entire company.
  • As for what I said above about Smackdown still feeling like a B-show. It’s probably just inertia, but I’ve never really been on “Team Smackdown” as a thing. Even when it’s good, Smackdown still feels like a slightly lesser brand than Raw. Perhaps because it’s not differentiated enough. Perhaps because it went years as a taped, canned, unexciting show, and the brand feels tainted.
  • I was strangely disappointed that John Cena and Baron Corbin sniping at one another at the top of the show didn’t somehow turn into a tag team match. I thought I was watching Smackdown?
  • I had a great time. Go watch live wrestling.

Your Own Private WWE Offseason

Sawyer Paul:

Here’s something you know: you can go back and catch up on the good stuff. The New Day and The Usos had a great tag match at Battleground. You have a Network subscription, and can go back and watch just that match. But then you can turn it off and not watch any more of that show. You will know what to do. You will know what makes you happy.

This column publishing in July means you can’t go back an unwatch the last four months. But here’s what you can do: book the spring of 2018 off from watching WWE. I’m giving you eight months warning. Watch WrestleMania 34. Watch the RAW after WrestleMania 34. And then, stop, and schedule to come back a few weeks before SummerSlam (around this time next year). It’ll be your personal WWE offseason. There’s almost nothing better for your enjoyment of pro wrestling than to not watch it sometimes.

Then again, maybe I just can’t handle WWE without Chris Jericho. 

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything more than a few sentences about pro wrestling. “Create your own off-season” has been a talking point of mine for years, but I figured it needed a 2017 polish.

Mattel kicks off the WWE Epic Moments series with the “Festival of Friendship”

WWE:


It was hilarious, heartbreaking and even a bit harrowing. Whatever words you use to describe Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens’ “Festival of Friendship,” we can all agree on one descriptor that sums up its pageantry and tragedy: epic.

That’s why Mattel is kicking off its all-new WWE Epic Moments Series with an action figure set that allows collectors to recreate the final moments of Jeri-KO’s partnership, complete with the infamous “Creation of Kevin” poster, Jericho’s questionable statuary and the List of KO that sealed the fate of the first Undisputed Champion. Of course, this set also includes unique Elite-style action figures of Jericho and Owens, donning the attire they wore during the Feb. 13, 2017, edition of Raw.

You monsters.

Black Excellence

Kofi Kingston in regards to this tweet:

It does not come from a place of malice, spite, or gloating. It comes from a place of joy and a place of happiness. We have a very strong sense of pride in being the Black People simultaneously holding championships in WWE. Historically in our nation, there was period in time where this would not have happened, followed by a long period of time where it became possible, but had not actually materialized. Now, we are in the time in which the possibility has become a reality.

That image is awesome, but of course it had detractors. Trump just won the presidency. There’s still a lot of racist assholes in America.

WWE creates a UK Championship, tournament, brand

WWE.com:

At an historic press conference at the O2 Arena in London, Triple H revealed that WWE’s first-ever United Kingdom Champion will be crowned this January.

Best case scenario: this is actual global outreach, and having a Network means WWE can have a ton of things like this. This also opens up the idea of a Japanese or Mexican title. WWE should be where wrestling is hot.

Worst case scenario: The European Title all over again.

2016 Performances of the Year (Longlist)

Criteria: WWE/nXt only. Chronological order. Shortlist coming soon.

Shinsuke Nakamura vs Sami Zayn – Takeover Dallas

Nakamura’s debut nXt match is also his best. Immensely rewatchable, it only gets better out of context. It’s a little on the long side, but with the crowd chanting “Fight Forever!” you can’t really blame them.

Sasha Banks vs Charlotte Flair vs Becky Lynch, Wrestlemania 32

2016 will be remembered as the year WWE began putting some real muscle behind women’s wrestling. Women headlined Raw for the first time in 12 years, headlined a PPV for the first time in history, and coheadlined WrestleMania with this match. If you don’t believe that co-headline tagline, by the way, you just have to look at the side of the building.

This triple threat match holds up to repeated viewings and critical scrutiny. It’s a little rushed and messy at first, but in place of technical precision there’s obvious excitement to perform on this stage. But all three pull it together by utilizing as many three-person wrestling sequences as they can, making it feel more spontaneous and unpredictable. Look for Banks’ out-of-nowhere frog splash as the best example of this. Charlotte’s moonsault to the outside is a spectacular image.

Kota Ibushi vs Brian Kendrick – Cruiserweight Classic Quarter-Finals

This match follows a template many wrestling fans know: cagey veteran pulls out all the stops to defeat an upstart who has everything going for him and is seemingly unbeatable. This is a match about Kendrick throwing everything he can against Ibushi, but none of it works. Kendrick is human. Ibushi is time. It goes as it has to.
Bonus points for Kendrick’s take on both a Burning Hammer(!), and a turnbuckle neckbreaker, which is high on my list of most cringe-inducing moves ever.

Asuka vs Bayley -Takeover Brooklyn II

I saw the ending to this match coming a mile away, and it still broke my heart into a million pieces.

John Cena vs AJ Styles – Summerslam

John Cena may one day get a DVD of matches where he “passes the torch” to the supposed next big thing. For whatever reason, he likes to do this at Summerslam. 2013’s match against Daniel Bryan was technically solid but ruined by the post-match soap. Same with 2015’s match with Rollins. 2016’s match against AJ Styles will age better. It’s a high-energy Cena performance, and Styles makes everything look easy. It’ll be a sleeper classic for years.

The Miz vs Dolph Ziggler – No Mercy

These two have performed 137 times on WWE television together. This is probably the only one you need to see.

DIY (Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa) vs The Revival (Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson) – Takeover: Toronto

In nXt, the big gimmick they utilize is the 2/3 falls match. It’s a particularly old-school move, but its throwback antiquity fits the brand (much like these two teams). It’s hard to pick a single moment that sticks out, though. It’s not that there aren’t highlights, but instead that the entire match feels like one long wrestling move. These four are so good at counter-wrestling that there is almost no chance to take a breath. You have to watch it multiple times to see the sequencing, too, how each submission leads to a counter, which leads to a running high spot, which leads to another submission, etc. I have no idea how all four men are seemingly capable of coming in out of nowhere to break a pin at any one time, but they do. They move so fast it seems like there’s eight of them.
The best finishing holds allow the losers to go out by showing character. The combo submission DIY applied (again, out of both nowhere and scouted ten moves ahead) left The Revival with a single free arm each, with both able to do nothing but hold onto one another for a tiny moment before the inevitable. It was beautiful.

Goldberg vs Brock Lesnar – Survivor Series

There are a significant number of people who watch pro wrestling who couldn’t give a damn about wrestling holds. They don’t care about match psychology, novel counters, or balletic sequences. They don’t even particularly care who wins or loses. They come to see entrances, finishing moves, and pins. For this type of fan, there is no better attraction than Goldberg. Ferocious intensity, even in middle age. As for Lesnar, this is the only wrestling match in his career where he has zero offense. For those weary of his by-the-numbers performances since mid-2015, this was cathartic. The match was a rare moment where giving us way, way less was absolutely the right decision.

Kevin Owens vs Seth Rollins, Raw November 21

I’m a little biased because I saw this match live, and good matches become great matches when you’re in the room (and you don’t have to listen to commentary). I’m also including it because it’s the only match on the list that wasn’t advertised beforehand and hyped. Nearly half an hour, brutal, satisfying. Great television. Bonus points for using my personal favourite part of any arena: the overhang above an entrance to the concession stands.

Sasha Banks vs Charlotte Flair, Raw November 28

Banks and Flair have been actively feuding for an entire year, and in hindsight people will have enjoyed that. In the present time, however, it can feel like we’ve seen them perform a million times this year and we’re hungry for something different. Still, there’s a clear winner in which one to pick.

205 Live

WWE.com:

Coming off the success of WWE Network’s recent Cruiserweight Classic tournament and the formation of the new Cruiserweight division, which airs exclusively on Monday Night Raw, 205 Live will feature Superstars that are 205 pounds and under.

Ever since the Cruiserweight Classic (hell, for years beforehand) the most obvious show that WWE could produce for their Network is a one-hour show built around cruiserweights. They’re finally doing it, but this is also an admission of failure.

For the last two months, “the cruiserweight division” has been on Raw, and it’s largely fallen flat. I’d wager this is because of two things:

1) The Raw audience is WWE’s broadest and least-passionate. Raw is the wrestling show people watch casually, and there are still a lot of viewers who don’t care about performers with no name cache.

2) The Raw writers had no idea how to write for cruiserweights, and Vince McMahon, who is still very much in charge, does not care about them at all.
It’s no secret that cruiserweight wrestling is a Triple H passion project. He had the ability to get them on Raw, but he can’t control the whole show. This is why we ended up with one halfway-decent narrative involving two characters and a bunch of forgettable tag maches.

My guess is, the writing was on the wall for cruiserweights on Raw. Triple H wants this project to continue, so he’s protecting the brand by putting it back on the Network.