This week’s episode of Smackdown Live was very good.
Sometimes -- this a lie, it’s often -- the feeling of guilt about constantly criticizing professional wrestling too much is overwhelming. If everything's the worst, why am I still watching? If I find more things to complain about than brag about every week, and I never waver in my weekly viewing habits, am I just a unknowing masochist? Yes, professional wrestling is not that serious, but I write about it every week, I watch it on my laptop every week, but if I’m more often than not annoyed about the product why is still a stable fixture in my life? This week’s episode of Smackdown Live is the reason why.
This week’s episode of Monday Night Raw was one of the worst I’ve ever had the unfortunate task of watching. It was a pleasure to watch Smackdown Live. Sure, you could make the case that it’s significantly easier to book an entertaining two-hour wrestling show than it is a three-hour show. That’s not always the case, though, as Raw won the Inconsequential Better Brand For 2017 award over the blue brand. Smackdown Live in 2017 will be remembered for wasting prime AJ Styles, saddling Kevin Owens with bad gimmicks and storylines, and the emergence of The Usos to keep me from quitting the show altogether. (Seriously, go back and watch some of those promos for The Usos, especially before their organic face turn. They’re incredible.) So it’s no guarantee that just because Smackdown Live has an unfair advantage in length that the show will outperform the slog usual slog that is Raw.
First, we had The Miz opening the show in another installment of Miz TV, and he brought out The New Day. It all worked, as Miz is the perfect foil to the New Day. Miz excels at coming across as a heel who takes himself way too seriously, and there is nobody in the WWE right now who does a better job of not doing so than Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods. You could tell, just from their mannerisms and facial expressions alone, there is a mutual respect there, and The Miz trolling the crowd over the most must-see professional wrestling match in 2018 still not having a definitive fight date.
Then, we had Aiden English introduce Lana to a crowd that is completely enthralled on a week-to-week basis with the Rusev Day gimmick. It’s simple, it got over organically, and it’s maybe, possibility helped revitalize Lana’s career on Smackdown Live. Lana is still greener than Flubber, but it doesn’t matter because it’s different and she makes it all work. (Poor Billie Kay, though.) English hilariously introducing the “Lana Day” sign is an early contender for Best Blue Brand Moment Of The Year idea.
Andrade “Cien” Almas put together one of the more entertaining squash matches I’ve ever seen. Almas has all the makings of a star -- as long as his in-ring co-pilot Zelina Vega remains by his side -- and he displayed just a sliver of his heavy, devastating array of moves anyone who watches NXT already knew were located deep down in his bag of tricks. Sure, I’m not sure a potential babyface turn will pan out for Almas, but for right now, it’s clear he’s the top heel on the blue brand, and, if Shinsuke Nakamura comes up short again in his match against WWE Champion AJ Styles at Money In The Bank, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to build for Almas vs. Styles for Summerslam.
Speaking of Nakamura, my God, his run as a chicken-shit heel could not be going any better. (Outside of those non-finishes to his title matches with the Phenomenal One, of course.) He’s having fun, and it reminds me of Randy Orton whenever he’s been given the opportunity to turn heel. You can just tell certain guys up their game when they’re booked to work heel, and Nakamura falls into that Randy Orton Zone where it’s just abundantly clear this is the best way to properly utilize them.
This episode even saw the Good Brothers finally get their shot. They were given mic time, they held their own against the Usos, and they put together a match with one of the best tag-team acts in the company that, by the end, got the crowd into it and throwing up the “too sweet” hand gestures that should only put a smile on every pro wrestling fan’s face. Do I think they’re going to beat the Actually Bad Bludgeon Brothers at Money In The Bank? No, it’s probably still going to be SAnitY that ultimately dethrones the hammer brothers, but this was good. The “magic killer” finisher still hits, and the crowd is into this duo again for the first time in what feels like forever.
And, because Road Dogg was feeling generous, I guess, this show still put out a main event that featured WWE United State Champion Jeff Hardy against Daniel Bryan in a match that will allow the winner to face Samoa Joe to earn an opportunity to compete in the Money In The Bank ladder match and who knows what else because there are so many things going on here that it’s hard to keep up. This match got time, this match ended with Bryan utilizing his new heel lock finisher, which, obviously, because it’s Daniel Bryan, looks devastating every time he locks it in, and this match ended with Samoa Joe doing what he does best: Saying dick-ish things on the mic.
This show had it all, and I’m probably leaving some stuff out -- like Naomi working a fantastic, creative match with Sonya Deville, for instance -- but there was nothing to complain about here. It all hit, and it all worked. Wrestling shows like this week’s Smackdown Live remind me why I still give a company run by Vince McMahon so much of time each week -- when pro wrestling is good, it’s fun. (Big, if true. I know.)
Now, let’s just do this consistently, Road Dogg and Ryan Ward, please?