Thursday, June 8, 2017

Learning to Live with Smackdown

Did Lana deserve her title shot?
Photo Credit:
Hello, friends! I did not expect my absence to last as long as it did. I haven't been able to watch any wrestling for over a month, so I've only had recaps to go by. I have missed the hell out of actually watching Smackdown, though, and I am ready to LOVE EVERYTHING. I've got a lot of developments to learn to live with (sadly, one of those things is not Luke Harper winning a title), so let's see what's new:

I am ecstatic that (a) WWE is finally having a women's Money in the Bank match and (b) it will feature the Smackdown women. It's about damn time, and I think this roster can absolutely do it justice. I'm disappointed that Naomi can't be in the match, but man it feels good to be actively anticipating a match again.

That being said, though, Smackdown is aware that there are ways to build to this other than running the same tag match every single week, right? I love that Smackdown features its entire women's roster pretty much every week, but how about giving them more than one match on the show? The male money in the bank contestants got two singles matches and a backstage segment on this same show, just saying. It was an especially odd decision given Lana's sudden appearance. Why not give her her first Smackdown singles match or at least slot her into the tag? At any rate, the match was fine. This match is always fine and it will always be fine, but there's a point where fine becomes stale when it's all you see. Money in the Bank is going to be a great opportunity for these women to be able to break out of this current pattern and mix things up.

And since I mentioned Lana, let's talk about that whole business. Yes, Lana made her astonishing debut, which involved looking terribly out of place, being awkwardly sexual with Shane McMahon, pouting, storming off, and sabotaging Naomi. All of that earned her a title shot. Seriously. Naomi was the one who pointed out that Lana can't just waltz (or chair dance) in and demand a spot when she has accomplished zero things as a wrestler (which gave us the adorable image of Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch clinking and then sipping from invisible tea cups), but then later on she demanded that McMahon let her put her title on the line against Lana at Money in the Bank. And he let her do it! Look, even if it turns out that Lana has been training her heart out and can put on a barn burner of a match, this has been terribly executed. First of all, who even is Lana now? Second of all, the in-show reason for the money in the bank match is that all of Smackdown's women are so good and have been so eager to prove themselves that a number one contender couldn't be chosen by normal means. Now Lana gets a title shot, the very thing they're all fighting for, because she interfered in Naomi's business? The Welcoming Committee have been doing that for weeks! Yes, Smackdown is the land of opportunity and that's great, but come on.

My final gripe is that in case you ever doubted that Shane McMahon is truly Stephanie's brother, the start of the show was devoted to the women's Money in the Bank match, but none of the participants got an entrance and instead we and they had to sit through McMahon's entire entrance. Then he introduced each of the women and began explaining the match and its importance. James Ellsworth got to speak before the women were allowed to cycle through their catchphrases. McMahon didn't go so far as to credit himself for inventing women's wrestling, but still. Stop pulling focus, Shane!

Anyway, please do not let my complaining diminish excitement for the money in the bank match. The Glow has given us this glorious gift, and I am thankful.

The Ghost of Luke Harper
When Mojo Rawley was making his case to Shane McMahon about getting a shot at the money in the bank match, McMahon name-dropped a bunch of people who could make a similar claim and one of the names he mentioned was Luke Harper, at which there was an audible pop from the audience. There really was! It wasn't wishful thinking on my part! Listen for yourself! Just let me have this. I want to believe his efforts live on the hearts of people other than myself. We can still get the Harper train back on track!

Dolph Ziggler: Not Ruining Things
 Yeah, I know I complained about the women having the same match all the time and then here were AJ Styles and Dolph Ziggler rehashing last week, but I didn't see their match last week, so it felt fresh to me. Also, I don't know if it was because I've just missed Smackdown so much or the magic of AJ Styles, but I really enjoyed their match, Dolph Ziggler's presence notwithstanding. The match was relatively short, but they kept up a pretty frenetic pace that leant an unpolished feel to things at times that I actually liked, as though both men were constantly adapting and thinking on their feet. In the end Styles managed to pull off a Styles Clash and win. And when Dolph Ziggler doesn't win, we all win.

I have pretty much no use for Mojo Rawley (for which I feel profoundly terrible because he seems like a lovely person), but I appreciated the show acknowledging his history with Jinder Mahal. Their match was a great way to say that, yep, we know that Mahal used to lose to the likes of Mojo Rawley but that was then and this is now. I didn't love the match itself, but I did like the story it told, if that makes sense. Mahal has learned from the past and while Rawley was patiently and quietly waiting to be noticed, Mahal was seizing the day and causing the biggest ruckus we've seen in a long time. He might have to cheat to win, but he's the WWE champion right now and Mojo Rawley is not. Jinder Mahal is still only an okay wrestler and kind of a terrible talker, but at least they're doing some work to cement him as champion before John Cena returns to sacrifice him to America.

Speaking of which, WWE is really trying to have it both ways with Mahal's heel characterization, aren't they? They are clearly courting xenophobic reactions with the way Mahal is presented, but then they want to say that, no, it's HIM who's wrong for thinking that people don't like him because he's not American. He's just a bad dude! Uh, yeah, guys, when the USA chants break out before he's even opened his mouth, the crowd is not responding to the things he's actually saying; they are responding to your blatant race baiting and you know it. The booing just intensifies when he dares to speak in a language other than English. There is no possible way to play coy about this.

Team Building
Amazingly, Smackdown isn't building to the New Day/Usos match at Money in the Bank by constantly running the two teams against each other beforehand. Instead, Xavier Woods and Big E faced the Colons, and the Usos came out afterward to be menacing. I know I said this right after the brand split, but I'll say it again: I'm so glad Primo and Epico are allowed to be competent again. You never expect them to win when they come out, but you know you're going to get a fun match out of it. The Ascension have (ahem) ascended to this status, too, and even the Fashion Police, who used to be treated as nonentities, were the most recent number one contenders to the titles. This is the value of just letting people, you know, BE GOOD AT THEIR JOBS even when that job is jobbing. I'm thrilled that the Smackdown Tag Division is coming into its own again, even though American Alpha have apparently disappeared. Maybe they're hanging out with Luke Harper.

Unwanted Emotions
My complicated relationship with Baron Corbin is picking up right where we left off, with him continuing to charm me in spite of myself. Sami Zayn was backstage being adorable when Corbin casually interrupted his interview with Dasha by gently taking the microphone from her and asking if he could ask a question and then NAILING ZAYN WITH THE MIC. It was kind of amazing, and I do not want to like this as much as I do. I love Sami Zayn, not Baron Corbin! Someone help me sort out all of these feelings.

Also, poor Sami Zayn. Every other participant in the men's money in the bank match was highlighted on this episode, and he just got destroyed. Even most of his interview was just him building up Shinsuke Nakamura and his other opponents. Can someone build Zayn up, please? Or at least help him up? He's probably still embedded in that floor.

Slight Disappointment
I was super excited for the main event match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Kevin Owens, but in the end I thought it was just okay. It felt like both of them were holding back, and I couldn't get invested. It seemed like the crowd was into it, though, which is good. Maybe there was a better vibe seeing it in person, but on screen it was kind of boring. Baron Corbin was on guest commentary, which didn't help because they kept cutting to him and talking about him and not focusing on what was happening in the ring. He didn't even attack Nakamura until after the match was finished, so I'm not sure why he had to be out there the whole time instead of just running in afterward. See, Baron Corbin still does things I don't like. WE ARE NOT FRIENDS.

Anyway, lacklustre ending aside, I'm still happy to be reunited with Smackdown, especially since Money in the Bank looks like it could be a lot of fun. I picked a good time to resurface!