With the majority of the roster already over in Europe for a tour, tonight’s show features a very small skeleton crew, meaning the likes of Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, the League of Nations and the Authority are nowhere to be seen. This show might have a chance of being entertaining, then.
Promo Time: Chris Jericho
There was once a time when Chris Jericho was one of the best talkers in the business. Unfortunately, those days have passed and he now exudes the air of an un-cool uncle desperately trying to prove that he is still “hip” and “with it”. Jericho these days tends to rely a lot on his past successes – because that is all he has left – and here it is no different when he brings up his classic ladder match with Shawn Michaels, eight years ago. That would be like the WWF in the Attitude Era referring back to the Hogan and Warrior days of 1990. Jericho is set to wrestle AJ Styles, who heads out with the intention of getting things underway immediately. Before they get doing the Social Outcasts – sans Bo Dallas – wander to ringside and cut their usual cringe-inducing promo that makes you slightly embarrassed to be watching something so juvenile. Fat Jericho tells them to hush and a ruckus breaks out. Jericho and AJ combine to take out J.O.B. Squad 2016, and Jericho decides on behalf of both of them that they are going to wrestle them in a tag match. AJ doesn't even get a say in it.
Curtis Axel & Adam Rose vs. AJ Styles & Chris Jericho
Like I said, there is only a few members of the roster here, so WWE are trying to stretch the talent they have as much as they can by having AJ and Jericho work twice. The Outcasts are basically crash test dummies for Jericho and AJ to do moves on in an attempt to outdo one another. Announcer Mauro Ranallo gets props for mentioning that Axel’s dad Curt Hennig started out in Portland Wrestling, which is the kind of insight you just don’t get from Michael Cole. AJ gets a brief beat down then fires back on Rose with his wonderful backhand flurry, then Jericho tags himself in when AJ strays towards him. Jericho fires up and connects with quebrada, only for AJ to tags himself back in and hit the springboard flying forearm to finish. Generic tag fare, for the most part. Post match, Jericho heels on AJ and drills him with the Codebreaker, setting up their match later on.
Final Rating: *1/2
Promo Time: The Dudley Boyz
Turning the duo heel on Monday was the smartest thing WWE could have done with the tandem, who were treading water after an initial hot return. Bubba is a great heel and could be a real player in WWE if given the chance to be himself. He says he is sick of hearing about Daniel Bryan and sick of a lot of things in WWE. He is not the only one. D-Von complains about people seeing the team as a nostalgia act, which is fair comment. The booking didn't help them at all. Bubba directs attention to a load of set up tables and says it will be the last time the fans ever see them because the Dudley Boyz are about more than getting easy pops from drilling opponents through tables. He forces stage hands to remove them, leaving one in the ring. Good heeling. “What about us? What about the Dudley Boyz?” he wines. The duo symbolically take the final table away, cementing their shift to the dark side. It is pleasing that a turn in WWE was actually given an explanation rather than simply happening in secret like every Big Show and Bellas turn. Quite a good promo here. Bubba is great on the stick. He could be the top heel WWE are so sorely lacking.
Sasha Banks vs. Naomi
Team BAD explode! Becky Lynch does commentary due to WWE’s creative bankruptcy. Sasha playing full-on babyface is strange to me. I know the crowd were getting behind her but that doesn't mean she needs to be generic smiling babyface. She needs to play “the Boss”, she will get cheered for it anyway because of how good at it she is. Unfortunately, WWE have no idea what to do with her because they don't get the character. For the most part the match is a clusterfuck, full of blown spots and lethargic action. Sasha tries to take it up a notch by taking a silly back bump on the apron which looks painful and barely gets a response. The risk is not worth the reward. She needs to slow down and cut that bump out, it will shorten her career. The match is long and the crowd is dead, and even the canned heat can’t save it. Naomi does her best to up the ante, hitting an amazing flurry of kicks like Low Ki if he was a Rockette. Becky – who is the worst commentator since the Bellas - offers, “She’s trying to KICK it up a notch. I will still KICK her lass (sic)” Only a WWE writer could come up with puns so lame. Becky doesn't help with her delivery because she sounds utterly bored. Either that, or she has had a stroke. Naomi is athletic but has no wrestling instincts at all and is oten in the wrong place, and while Sasha tries to lead her I get the sense that he is a little out of her element on the main roster, as if she is frightened of doing too much to take charge so she doesn't offend those with tenure. Good old politics. Tamina interferes but, incredibly, Banks kicks out of the distraction finish! Who does she think she is, John Cena? Tamina and Becky get into it on the outside and Tamina ends up sat in the announce chair. Sasha heads outside and kicks her out of the chair and Tamina takes the most reckless and uncoordinated bump ever. But it looks good. Back in the ring and a roll up from Naomi is countered into the Bank Statement for the Sasha win. Picked up towards the end but mostly useless.
Final Rating: *
Backstage, AJ Styles does a promo with JoJo. It’s good, he should be allowed to speak more. He responds to being coined a “redneck rookie”, saying he is proud of being a redneck, but he ain’t no rookie. He dismisses Jericho’s recent dissing of him as distraction tactics designed to cause him to make a mistake, pointing out that “this ain’t my first rodeo.” Quite.
Promo Time: The Wyatt Family
Bray offers a spot of poetry recital, which is the same mindless blabbering as usual, only it rhymes. Bray is the king of the gods, the family are his army, yadda, yadda. Bray says that after removing Show, Kane and Ryback from WWE screens, he wants to rid WWE of “all its titans”. If that means oversized lunks who cannot work, then great. Bring it on. Say, how about we start with his buddy Stroman? One thing I will give Braun credit for, he does have an amazing deep snarling voice. Unfortunately, I know this is all leading to a WrestleMania program between Wyatt and Lesnar, which sounds like an awful waste of Brock.
Stardust & The Ascension vs. Neville & The Lucha Dragons
What was the point of WWE putting the US Title back on Kalisto if they are just going to use him in throwaway six man tag matches every week? All of the great work that John Cena did making the belt worthwhile again has been unravelled in record time. I am flabbergasted that in February 2016 we are still being forced to watch Neville suffer through matches with the interminable Stardust. I am convinced they only work together so often so WWE’s resident cartoonist has an excuse to draw pre-match graphics. The match is quicker than lighting, with much flipping and flying at speed, then the Dragons and Neville all hitting their big finishing moves ending with a Neville Red Arrow for the win. At least the right guy went over, but this continued waste of Neville is frustrating.
Final Rating: **
AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho
Only three matches on the entire show, and two of them have featured this pair. I may be in the minority but I thought their match on Raw a few weeks back was really underwhelming, with Jericho looking in poor ring condition and half a step off the pace. On commentary Lawler is as bad as Jericho for brining up past, deciding that Jericho is obviously better than AJ because he defeated The Rock and Steve Austin in same night. That was nearly fifteen years ago! That’s like saying Pele is still the best footballer in the world, or that Michael Jordan should be playing in the NBA. Ranallo shows how commentating should be done by throwing in a Dynamite Kid reference after a snap suplex. One thing that becomes readily apparent when watching SmackDown! is how much of an unwanted third wheel charisma void Byron Saxton is. He is so out of place. Ranallo and the heelish Lawler would be a great team if they did not have to constantly stop and listen to Saxton’s inane ramblings. He merely stumbles through sentences without any comprehension of what he is saying, offering no insight whatsoever. And he is, inexplicably, on both shows. The match features lots of counters, move scouting, and impressive offence from Styles, with a more grounded approach comparatively adopted by Jericho. He is as sloppy as ever though, with no idea how to reverse the Styles Clash into the Walls of Jericho, so he improvises something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Brie Bella match. AJ’s transition from that into the Calf Crusher is far smoother. Moments later Jericho connects with the Codebreaker out of nowhere, giving him the clean win and subjecting AJ early to WWE’s ever-infuriating Even Steven toss. So to sum up, AJ got roundly dissed, cheap shotted and beaten up, then defeated. Great booking. The match was alright. People will inevitably rate it higher than it deserves because AJ is involved, but it was good, not special. Jericho doesn't have special matches anymore.
Final Rating: ***1/4
THE SMACKDOWN RECAP:
Most Entertaining: AJ Styles
Least Entertaining: Byron Saxton
Match of the Night: AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho
Summary: It was lovely to not have Roman and Ambrose forced down my throat to the point of nausea, but at the same time the lack of any real star power on the show other than the two guys in the main event made it feel like a strong episode of Superstars or Main Event rather than WWE’s secondary show. The problem with SmackDown! is that nothing tends to happen. The ring work is about the same as Raw, the promos and angles are often better because Vince McMahon does not always attend SmackDown! and thus the writers have a touch more freedom, however that also means they cannot go too far with anything for fear of repercussions. The result is a show like this, with decent wrestling carrying it through but absolutely nothing happening that would be considered can’t-miss. A reasonable effort, but ultimately pointless.