Segment 1. Storytime with The Rock is interrupted by John Laurenitis.
- Storytime wasn’t overwhemlingly funny but it didn’t totally bomb either so I guess it’s a win.
Last Word: WIN!
Segment 2. Big Johnny eats the People’s Elbow.
- John Laurenitis is a wrestling heel. The Rock is a celebrity. There’s a difference.
- That difference is what helps me to understand why the Rock might be relevant to today’s young audience. To an eleven year-old, The Rock is an action star. Most action stars aren’t wrestlers. We understand that they’re just acting and they can’t really kick ass the way they do in the movies. But here’s Dwayne Johnson, the action star, showing up in WWE like he owns the place, and daring to challenge the greatest wrestler in the world, John Cena (remember, this is from a little kid’s perspective). And then he wins! This really is unprecendented in the history of pro wrestling. Imagine if Arnold Schwarzenegger had challenged Hulk Hogan during the height of Hulkamania, held his own during promos and in-ring confrontations during the build-up to their match, actually looked good in the ring, and then won! The idea is completely preposterous yet that’s exactly what happened last year. It has to be mind-blowing to someone who doesn’t really know the Rock’s history. But the fact that the Rock does have history with WWE lends credibility to what he has done by beating John Cena and becoming WWE Champion. If I, as a young fan, had missed out on the Rock’s career, all it would take is a well-edited video package to get me believing that he might stand a chance against the unbeatable Kool-Aid Man in jorts. It might even get me interested in finding out more about the Rock and the things he did in the past and what made people call him “The Great One.” When understood in this light, bringing the Rock back really does make sense from a business standpoint even if the majority of diehard fans aren’t happy that a part-timer is headlining the company’s biggest show while talented people who are grinding for the company all year-long are stuck on the undercard are missing the show completely.
- A babyface is only as good as the heel opposing him. The Rock needed a bad guy to squash and Laurenitis proved himself to still be an “ace” and that there is still no one more hated in wrestling than him.
Last Word: WIN!
Segment 3. Chris Jericho vs. Wade Barrett (non-title match), Part One. The Miz on commentary.
- Remember when Jericho was Wade’s mentor on NXT? Neither did anyone else watching this match.
- Nothing spectacular. Probably because Barrett, who is a great talker, hasn’t had the chance to do much talking or generate much heat as Intercontinental Champion. His angle with the Miz feels thrown together and rushed. I feel like WWE would have been better off going with one more match between Antonio Cesaro and Miz since that feud was already well-established.
Last Word: FAIL!
Segment 4. Jericho pins Wade following a Code Breaker after Wade gets preoccupied with Miz on the outside. Jericho takes another try at pronouncing “Fandango.” Fandango walks down to ringside but then leaves without incident.
- Kind of saw this coming. I realize wins and losses don’t mean what they used to, but the old-schooler in me still gets annoyed when the champions are defeated so easily.
- Unless Miz and Barrett can have a good match at WrestleMania, they’re going to end up being an afterthought.
- I was glad we got more build for the Jericho-Fandango match, which I think has the potential to steal the show.
- It was obvious Jericho came prepared with some new takes on Fandango’s name and his effort wasn’t wasted. Funny stuff. Every time Jericho does something like that, just like when he goes out and has a great match, it erases everyone’s memory of what he’s been involved in before and reminds them all why he’s great to have around.
Last Word: WIN!
Segment 5. Triple H – Brock Lesnar hype video. Josh Mathews’ sit-down interview with Paul Heyman.
- Heyman is the ultimate car salesman. He can make anything sound good. Except the retirement stipulation for this match.
- I’m sure someone at WWE checks out the internet. And I’m sure they give it about as much attention as they do reviews like this, which is to say, not much, if any at all. BUT, the reaction to the retirement stipulation made for this match was pretty much uniform among all wrestling fans and that was, “Isn’t Triple H already retired?”
- You could almost hear that question being asked amongst the cricket chirps when it was announced on Raw a couple of weeks ago. And I’m sure it was that lukewarm response that prompted this so obviously staged, pre-recorded sit-down between Mathews and Heyman.
- Paul gave it his best shot to explain why he would choose such a ridiculous stipulation and I’m sure it probably was enough to satisfy most fans because he’s great at making even the ludicrous sound believeable. It was just utterly lost on me. There were so many more devious options at Heyman’s disposal that he could have used to strike back at Triple H. He basically had a blank slate and the best he could come up with was retirement? For a guy who never wrestles??
Last Word: FAIL!
Segment 6. Bench press challenge between Mark Henry and Ryback. Henry attacks Ryback mid-exercise to avoid losing.
- Just like the old-schooler in me despises seeing champions lose meaningless non-title matches, the old-schooler in me LOVES segments like this!
- Things like this may seem pointless and silly but all you had to do was listen the crowd counting along with each rep to know they were into it.
- Both guys showed what true powerhouses they were by firing out repititions like machines, with Henry supposedly setting a new record with fifty-three reps, then attacking Ryback as he was on his fifty-fourth, pressing the bar down across his throat. Such a great way to build sympathy for Ryback, heat for Henry, and anticipation for this match.
- I know a lot of fans are expecting this match to be one of the worst in ‘Mania history since neither man is known for having the most exciting repertoire of moves. However, there’s more to a match than the match itself. Hulk Hogan had some of the most memorable matches in the history of the business and it wasn’t because they were clinics on ring generalship. It was because he was over. And his opponent was over. And the angle was over. It was the buzz in the arena from the anticipation of the crowd at seeing two gladitors finally collide who they were emotionally invested in. I feel that has been missing at WrestleMania for the past few years, but not so with regard to this match. No matter how the action plays out on April 7th, I’m going to be looking forward to this encounter and most likely marking out for every clothesline, slam and tackle.
Last Word: WIN!
Segment 7. Daniel Bryan & Kaitlyn (with Kane) def. Dolph Ziggler & AJ Lee (with Big E Langston). Backstage promo by The Shield.
- A little sloppy, but still a fun match to watch.
- A good way to build up for both title matches at ‘Mania.
- The Shield promo was lacking in that mysterious, sinister quality that I’ve appreciated in the past. It was more of your basic “we’re gonna beat you guys” wrestling promo.
Last Word: WIN!
Segment 8. Jack Swagger battles The Great Khali to a double-countout. Swagger attacks Hornswoggle, gets chased off by Alberto Del Rio.
- Swagger and Coulter’s pre-match promo was more of their usual goodness. Ol’ Zeb gets off the line of the week: “He broke a bone to bind a country.”
- Mark my words, Swagger will get cheered at WrestleMania. Why? Because the crowd is going to be full of ugly Americans who believe exactly the way his character believes. But not only that, he’s easier to identify with. Most people get annoyed at the very things that Coulter and Swagger point out as being problems. Del Rio’s white-meat, anti-bully approach is fine for little kids. But do you think you’re going to be able to hear those little kids chanting “Si, si, si” over all the grown-ups chanting “We the people”?
- Besides the difference in their characters, Swagger has been putting on the better in-ring performances in my opinion. He took more bumps from Khali than anyone has in months that wasn’t getting completely squashed by the Punjabi Giant. That may seem like a step backwards to some, but it showed me just how smart Swagger is. By bumping around for Khali, he made him look like a formidable opponent. A formidable opponent that was left on the arena floor clutching his ankle in pain. Who cares if it was a double-countout? Swagger could’ve easily beaten the count and gotten the win if he wanted to. But he showed that his commitment to his cause is what drives him, not wins and losses, and that feeds into the “brainwashed” storyline that they’ve been trying to build for him. It makes more sense for someone who is challenging for the World Heavyweight title to look impressive and get a win. But when that challenger is driven by something more, it adds a an extra level of interest to the match than simply one man trying to win another man’s title. Brilliant work.
- But then everything went South. And by that I mean, South of the border. Ricardo came out and distracted Swagger, allowing Del Rio to jump him from behind and put him in the cross armbreaker. Hasn’t Del Rio already gotten the best of Swagger in enough of these segments? I was really hoping we’d see Swagger threaten Hornswoggle, have Natalya attempt to save him, and then have Swagger put her in the Patriot Act. That would’ve been a fantastic way to build more heat for Jack! Instead we just get more of the same. We get it. Alberto loves Ricardo and he’s mad that Swagger hurt him. I’m sorry, but Jack’s character is way more intriguing and the one I want to see developed further.
- I’m almost tempted to call this segment a fail for the way it ended, but I think Swagger did enough throughout to save it.
Last Word: WIN!
Segment 9. CM Punk – Undertaker hype video. Renee Young debuts as new backstage interviewer with Randy Orton, Big Show and Sheamus.
- The rumors are rampant that Orton is going to turn heel and cost his partners the match at WrestleMania. And the way this interview played out, I’m inclined to believe it. His role as the “voice of reason” seems too purposely forced for it not to play out that way. WWE is notorious, however, for doing the opposite of what the fans expect in some cases. Point being, we can all speculate all we want, none of us will know until showtime. I like that though. It adds an extra layer to what would otherwise be just another six-man tag match.
Last Word: WIN!
Segment 10. Orton, Show & Sheamus vs. Team Rhodes Scholars & Antonio Cesaro, Part One.
- I want Sandow, Rhodes, and Cesaro to form a stable. Immediately. Their characters all fit. They’re all in about the same place in their careers. And they’re very entertaining together. I know it’s unlikely, but their walk down to ringside was pure heel gold, Cesario’s yodeling included.
- I know some hate it, but he needed a way to draw cheap heat. He was getting more cheers than boos because he’s athletically superior to everyone he faces and the fans recognize and appreciate that. But he’s not ready to turn face at this point in his career so someone smartly gave him something that fans would be sure to hate…yodeling. It’s no different than Fandango’s dancing. It doesn’t mean he’s being shit on. It means he’s being invested in long-term.
Last Word: WIN!
Segment 11. Sheamus pins Rhodes following the Brogue Kick. The Shield appear. Fight breaks out in the stands. Babyfaces chase the Shield off.
- The match was no classic, but it was fun. Especially when Show was cheering on Sheamus during the finish. Even if it’s acted enthusiasm, it was convincing and gave the match some meaning.
- Orton, Sheamus & Show not waiting until the Shield got to ringside but chasing them into the stands was also a nice added touch. It was something different which is rare given how often we see the same things every week.
Last Word: WIN!
FINAL VERDICT: This week’s episode of Smackdown is a WIN!
- I-C: Intercontinental, or Irrelevant Champion? I realize there is only so much the fans can invest in and the card for WrestleMania is not only extremely top-heavy, but they’ve actually done a decent job building the undercard. However, a couple of guys holding shiny gold belts seem to have been left out in the cold. Wade Barrett at least has a match on April 7th. Cesaro may still get a pre-show internet match but it would be nice to see these terrific young talents showcased in something more meaningful.
- “No” means “no” even in Spanish. Great opportunities to build heat for a heel character don’t fall off of trees. A lot of elements need to be in place and you can never tell how a crowd is going to respond. It seems like all the stars were aligned for Swagger on this show to really gain some excellent heat. But instead that opportunity was squandered so that Alberto Del Rio can show us how mad he is about his little buddy getting hurt. That leads me to believe that WWE is leaning more towards Del Rio in this feud which I think would be a colossal mistake. Swagger’s gimmick is extremely relevant and I think it’s important for them to strike now while the iron is hot and give him a heel title run.
POINTS OF PRAISE:
- Hungry For More. The purpose of segment like the bench press contest between Henry and Ryback is to leave the fans wanting more. Mission accomplished. The segment was a throwback to things like the posedown between Rick Rude and the Ultimate Warrior at Royal Rumble ’89. Classic stuff.
- The Difference Between “Fan” and “Fun”. Is “U”. I know, it’s terrible. But I’m afraid sometimes as fans we have the tendency to get a little hyper-critical when we’re watching instead of just having fun. Sure, there are things we’d all like to see WWE do differently. But if you can’t have fun then what’s the point? If WWE did everything exactly the way we fans wanted, would we allow ourselves to just enjoy it? Or would we still find something to complain about? This show may not have been expertly booked from start to finish and not every match was a five-star classic (whatever that is). But it was fun. And if you can say that about a wrestling show, then nothing else matters.
So there you have it. After a disappointment last week, Smackdown comes back strong. Now it’s time for YOU to come strong with your opinions. Don’t just sit on your hands, wrestling fans. Make your voices heard. Right here! Click on the box below and put in your two cents. What I’m trying to say is, until next time, discuss!
[Find more of “Handsome” Dan Lopez’s rambling on his personal blog page, “Handsome” Dan’s Last Word, and follow him on Twitter, @DansLastWord.]