Smackdown Review 7/21: Tuesday Night Raw
A huge, fat red line got drawn through an item on my bucket list this past Tuesday as I was finally able to attend a live WWE television taping... and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Made even more special was the fact that this was actually a great show filled with A-list talent and hard hitting exciting matches. On paper, this card was more akin to a Raw broadcast than a Smackdown. Before we dive into the matches however, I have to take the opportunity to share some things I noticed regarding the live WWE experience.
Everything is loud. Very, very loud... except the ring. When you watch wrestling on television, there are microphones placed under the canvas to highlight the sound of a body landing on what amounts to a large boxspring. In person though, this sound isn't as noticeable or dramatic, amounting to more of a sharp thud than the giant crash you hear through your speakers. From four rows back behind the announce table, Myself, Editor in Chief Chris Stachiw, and new staff writer Zach Wickwire were able to experience this heightened noise level first hand, but where it really stood out was during a wrester's entrance.
Many a casual wrestling fan is teased by a long time viewer for stating the entrance as their favorite part of the show. Well, I'm here to say that as a seasoned fan, entrances are some of my favorite parts. Although to my disappointment, I wasn't able to experience Chris Jericho's awesome entrance live, I was fortunate to see Sheamus's live. It may come across as cheesy or hyperbolic, but with the loud boos, his awesome new music, pyrotechnics and his new attitude make for the best entrance currently on the main roster. It was an experience I'll likely never forget.
Helping make Sheamus' and Cesaro's entrance and matches so entertaining was the audience. Nebraska and the Midwest has always been safe territory for WWE, and our crowd was really into it. From the onset of the night during the opening dark match featuring Jack Swagger, the crowd was exceptionally rowdy. We cheered and booed until the building shook, and the wrestlers rewarded us with great promos and top notch wrestling.
Actual wrestling is probably the most important thing to get right in hosting a live wrestling program. Flat out, its a much different experience seeing this sport live opposed to television. Everything is so much more fluid and “real” in person than it looks on television. If you're never seen professional wrestling live, its difficult to put into words. An easy way to state it may be this: If I had never been exposed to professional wrestling at all in my life and my first experience was this WWE Smackdown live taping, I would have believed you that everything I saw was real. Their performance was that good.
If you haven't seen a live WWE show and you have the chance, do it. It is the best 100 bucks you'll ever spend. Go see a show. Hell, even if its a house show go see it and pay the extra money for good tickets. If there's one complaint I can muster, its with the merch table. Selling a shirt I can order off my phone for ten bucks less than at a merch table is a bit of a bummer. However, if that is my only complaint, then I think WWE is still doing something right.
Dean Ambrose vs Sheamus
One final interesting thing to mention about attending a live television taping over watching it on television is that there is no commentary to distract you from what is going on in the ring. Without Michael Cole or Jimmy Uso carrying on through my speakers, I was able to focus on what was going on in the ring without distraction.
Not to say that that the current DVD commentary style of WWE commentary is solely to blame for the lack of engagement from the modern fans, but it is a different experience when you don't have Tom Philips explaining the Money in the Bank briefcase every few minutes. A brief aside, our condolences out to Jerry Lawler and his family for the loss of his brother earlier Tuesday.
Dean Ambrose and Sheamus are clearly comfortable with each other in ring. Their hits and kicks landed with some authority, and Sheamus' back was quite red after a few hard strikes from Ambrose. Although Ambrose wouldn't walk away with the pin, thanks to a distraction by way of Bray Wyatt and the sickeningly under utilized and underrated Luke Harper.
From his second consecutive opening contest on Smackdown, it would seem that Ambrose is currently on sabatical from the main event scene, its hardly something we should be concerned about. Ambrose is clearly around for a long haul, and we'll see him wrestling for the big belt at some time in the near future. Something I find very interesting is the lackluster build I'm seeing for the Money in the Bank briefcase. I feel that we are gearing towards another failed cash-in. With Sheamus set to film a movie, it would seem this is the easy way out of a scheduling conflict, even though Cena wrestled full time and took time to film Trainwreck.
I'm glad to see Sheamus get the victory in this match. Dusty or not, a win for Sheamus certainly puts him on the right path to cash in as a strong heel. With Seth Rollins Playing the roll of the chicken shit, non fighting heel is needed. A character that shares similar traits that Kevin Owens does (or used to), the unstoppable heel that doesn't give two shits about any body or any thing, would be intensely refreshing as the World Heavyweight Champion.
Adam Rose vs Neville
I feel very bad for Adam Rose and his character. While he's still living the dream working in the industry he loves, for the biggest company that does it in the world, I can't help but wonder if he secretly feels a level of betrayal or resentment for the mismanagement of his character.
While this match served its purpose in giving Neville a chance to hit the Red Arrow, it was certainly the low point of the night. For me, this is saying something, as Adam Rose and his awesome gimmick were my favorite thing about WWE programming.
Adam Rose certainly was unique, and that individuality was rewarded in the form of Adam Rose becoming one of most popular wrestlers on NXT. Leave it to WWE to take someone that was printing tickets and turn him into a jobber. Who would have thought that by taking away what was once the best entrance on the roster and pairing him with Justin Gabriel in a rabbit costume wouldn't have rocketed Adam Rose to the World Heavyweight Championship picture.
So, after taking away The Rosebuds and dropping The Bunny as an active wrestler, Adam Rose was like everyone else, except now he was a bad guy. As a fun loving party animal, you can see why the character isn't working as a heel and has lost all momentum. His recent mash-up with Rosa Mendez has done nothing for his character save to alienate the remaining fans of Rose.
Post match, Stardust appears on the Titantron to cut a fantastic promo on the Green Arrow. I've said for sometime that Cody Rhodes is one of the best talkers in the business right now and it shows here. He has clearly bought into the Stardust gimmick, and as long as he attacks his promos and matches with this level of intensity and creativity, we are all in for a long and storied run.
Kevin Owens vs Rusev
Anyone who argues at this point that Vince McMahon and Executive Vice President of Television, Kevin Dunn aren't intentionally sandbagging NXT call-ups doesn't have much of a leg to stand on. Prior to Battleground, I was in the camp that Cena should have pulled off a victory, but should have had to resort to somewhat un Cena-like nefarious means to do so.
Rather than having to dig down to depths of his soul and conscience to put Kevin Owens away, Cena simply made him tap. Kevin Owens had to give up. Now, with Kevin Owens out of the main event and title picture and sailing without a destination, he appears set up for a feud with fellow Cena victim/NXT washout, Rusev. See the pattern.
I realize that it may be a tad shortsighted to declare both Rusev and Kevin Owens dead to rights, as both have long careers ahead of them. However, along with countless others, these two have fallen victim to either the John Cena brick wall or shitty booking. While not everyone is cut to be main event material, but with some obvious exceptions (Seth Rollins, Cesaro,) there does appear to be a pattern developing.
Bray Wyatt, Adam Rose, Kevin Owens, Paige, King Barrett, Rusev, Bo Dallas, The Ascension among others that aren't active with WWE all share this fate. Bo Dallas and Paige are even former NXT champions and look at them now; Paige is all but forgotten as WWE burns the clock in making sure AJ is scrubbed from history, and Bo Dallas lost to R-Truth during WWE Main Event. So what happens to Kevin Owens after getting banished to the mid card by John Cena, he puts on a lackluster match against Rusev where he starts to get his ass kicked then rolls out of the ring and leaves. Losing, again, via count out. That is Kevin Owens' current direction, walking away.
As an aside, holy shit Rusev is big in person. My God. Rusev is just a big hairy bear of a man. Interestingly, while still big, Kevin Owens is no where near as big as expected. While both are big in their own regard, both need to be commended for their ability in ring as they are each capable of maneuvers that people of their carriage shouldn't be able to perform.
Sasha Banks and Naomi vs The Bella Twins
Apparently, the on again – off again babyfaces, The Bellas, are quite popular in Nebraska. One would have thought that Ric Flair just entered the ring after the pop the pair got. The accolades were actually well deserved, as all four women had enormous chips on their shoulder, each with something to prove. Thankfully, each was given an opportunity to prove what they were capable of.
Each of the four women were given a chance to wrestle, and they all put on a hell of a show. Normally, out of our talented WWE commentary team, I am notoriously the harshest on the Women's division, but I have to give credit to all four involved as they put on a hell of a tag team match. Brie Bella, previously the weakest of The Bellas, put on an especially great showing. It's not often we see Brie or Nikki use actual tried and true wrestling holds in a match, and it was almost shocking how smooth and fluid she was in the ring.
Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for Sasha Banks. Whether it was simply the shock of seeing Brie and Nikki compete at such a high level or that she was told to dial things back for the contest, Banks didn't seem to act with the same sense of urgency and intensity as normal. An exception to that statement was a particularly hard double knee to the mid section, a maneuver that its almost cringe worthy to see live.
After scoring the pin over Naomi via The Rack Attack, Nikki enjoyed a thunderous ovation, and even took a moment to bow to the cheering crowd. Normally this is the point where I would chastise The Bellas for embracing their role on the roster as simply having the biggest and best bodies, but they killed it. If only the twins had wrestled like this during their entire run, we wouldn't want to see them leave.
Cesaro vs Seth Rollins
Two of the best performers on the roster were finally given a chance to actually wrestle in our non title main event. After an amazing promo where Cesaro proclaimed his love of the sport, he entered the match on the heels of a much deserved push. After losing his partner and bff Tyson Kidd due to the recklessness of bad wrestler and known lard ass, Samoa Joe, Cesaro was in a weird conundrum. He was celebrated by the audience as an accomplished and talented wrestler, and the president of the company went on an interview and said he was boring.
Thankfully, Vince's bullshit tone deaf statement backfired, and voices within WWE are allowing Cesaro to be Cesaro as he continues to light the main roster on fire. Coming off of two huge matches on back to back Raw's, Cesaro is exactly where he needs to be: wrestling in the main event against the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Speaking of the World Heavyweight Champion, he was in this match as well.
Seth Rollins has been (deservedly) criticized for his portrayal as a coward chicken shit heel. While the character can sometimes work, it's normally better played by a character that isn't actually a fantastic wrestler. In retrospect, I can't recall too many wrestlers that fit the bill of total coward, and amazing kick ass wrestler. If you can loyal reader, please sound off in the comments below.
Your main event match is everything you'd want from a Cesaro Match, hard hitting and ass kicking. Unfortunately Cesaro would fall victim to a pinfall via a Pedigree, but he comes out the winner in this contest. Post match, Kevin Owens would rush out and appear and assault Cesaro, Hopefully a prologue to Owens contending for the belt, but I fear it was merely to remind us that he's a bad guy.
It's interesting to note, after the cameras stopped rolling Dean Ambrose would appear to assist Cesaro, causing Seth Rollins to attempt to turn tail and run away. After trying to jump the rail four feet in front of us, he would be dragged back into the ring and hit with Dirty Deeds. After setting up a previously retrieved table, Cesaro placed Rollins on it, giving Ambrose a chance to crash through it with a flying elbow. Good clean fun.
I'll admit, I haven't yet turned around and watched the Smackdown broadcast to compare the differences between what I saw live and what was edited. Whether our “Canada,” chants in response to the “USA!” chants during the Owens/Rusev contest made it on screen is still a mystery to me. What I'm sure of is this, seeing a WWE television event live should be the Mecca of every wrestling fan's journey through life.
Attempting to separate the joy and fun I had during the event from the actual wrestling program is difficult. For those of you watching on television, you're in for a treat. The quality in wrestling during this two hour program is unlike what we've seen before on Smackdown. Many commentators have stated that Smackdown is a lame duck, due to it's impending movement to USA Network next year. Appearing to buck that notion, this week's show is must watch television. As every moment of WWE programming is beginning to set up to SummerSlam, every second now becomes relevant. As WWE fights against a frustrated and disenfranchised audience after a disappointing pay per view, Smackdown was a surprising and welcome change from what has become the new normal.
Smackdown Rating: 5 out of 5 Pop-Up Powerbombs