SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
WWE Smackdown TV Taping Report
April 5, 2016
Houston, Tex. at Toyota Center
Report by James Caldwell, PWTorch assistant editor
What do you mean the WrestleMania Week party is over? It’s Smackdown TV following up on Mania. What kind of crowd will be here – folks who traveled from Dallas down to Houston to wrap up Mania Week? Or, the usual family & kids, with the scattered adult males at a Smackdown TV taping?
Upon arrival at Toyota Center, I could tell this was not a typical Houston Smackdown taping crowd. It was more like a PPV crowd of local 20 and 30-somethings, with a few international fans here and there wearing NASA tees to establish where they spent the afternoon. Still plenty of families and kids, but a healthy mix of both demographics. The conclusion – WrestleMania Season draws out the adult male audience when they otherwise wouldn’t buy a ticket to a non-PPV or Raw event.
Inside the arena, three-fourths of the upper levels were tarped off. WWE sold all of the available floor and lower level seats, but tarping off the top sections probably priced a lot of families out of a ticket. It looks like they were set up for 6,000-7,000 tonight.
Also of note is some strong on-the-ground marketing by Booker T’s ROW promotion. Reps were handing out flyers for their next show on Saturday while fans waiting in line. They also had flyers strategically placed at bathroom sinks. Well done.
The pre-show random chants in the crowd that caught on were “New … Day Rocks,” classic Ric Flair woos, and the classic “Let’s Go Cena / Cena Sucks.” Or, it’s cousin, “Let’s Go Cena / CM Punk.”
Ring announcer Greg Hamilton kicked off the show at 6:59 p.m., noting they are starting with Main Event before Smackdown. Jerry Lawler was introduced along with Rich Brennan. Odd for Lawler to be on Main Event. They also went to a dark match before cameras started rolling for Main Event.
Dark Match: Dolph Ziggler beat Stardust at 4:50. Both guys goofed around throughout doing various house show antics to warm up the crowd. Ziggler hit a superkick for the win. It felt like the last night on the tour trying to have a few laughs in a non-TV match.
Main Event Taping
WWE tag champions New Day kicked things off. They did their shtick celebrating and honoring the last over-sized Booty O’s cereal from WrestleMania. This brought out The Ascension.
(1) WWE tag champions New Day (Big E. & Kofi Kingston w/Xavier Woods) beat The Ascension (Konnor & Viktor) at 8:45. Dry match. Same issue as other New Day matches when they’re playing faces – the crowd is into the pre-match, but not the match, and they haven’t worked with interesting heel opposition. The crowd was not into Ascension isolating New Day. After Xavier hopped on the ring apron to distract the heels, Kofi and Big E. hit their double-team combo on Viktor.
Tonight: Paige vs. Emma.
About 10-12 stagehands scurried to ringside to set up the Andre the Giant trophy. TV makes the thing look huge, but it’s really a standard-sized trophy sitting on top of a tabletop. They make the tabletop look like it’s part of the trophy to make it look huge, but it’s really just a trophy sitting on a table.
(2) Baron Corbin beat Fandango at 2:19 with End of Days. Basic match. The only thing that Baron did that got a reaction was screaming a one-liner at the referee – “I’ll do what I want!” After his match against Ziggler on Raw, apparently that will be his thing yelling at refs.
(3) Paige beat Emma at 11:41. This was announced as a “women’s division” match. And it was darn good. Really impressive, snug, physical match. The action picked up half-way through when Emma sent Paige tumbling hard to the floor. Emma then went to work with realistic-looking offense punishing Paige into some believable nearfalls. Emma nearly scored a pin with a roll-up, and Paige promptly answered with Ram-Paige for the win. Paige got a Standing O after she won. And, Emma has really found herself as a wrestler in the Dark Emma role. Second best match of the night behind the Smackdown main event…
Smackdown SPOILERS 4/7
Exit the Main Event crew except Lawler. Mauro Ranallo and Byron Saxton joined King at the commentary position, and Eden Stiles handled ring announcing.
WWE World Hvt. champion Roman Reigns kicked off Smackdown. Loud boos and loud cheers from the two main demos of vocal males and kids/families/women, respectively. As soon as Reigns’s music stopped, the vocal males went full-throat booing him. Reigns talked over the boos, saying he’s one versus all defending the WWE Title. He also delivered the “not a good guy, not a bad guy, but The Guy” line. Some of the crowd picked up on the line from Monday night and said it along with him. A.J. Styles interrupted to huge cheers as the counter to Reigns. Styles showed respect by noting he was out here to congratulate him on winning the WWE Title at WrestleMania. But, he’s next in line for a title. Styles said he’s been a champion before, and now he wants the WWE World Title. Reigns laughed off his past success, saying he might have been a champion, but he is not the champion now. Reigns said he will never beat him for the title. Styles smirked, then Reigns patronizingly patted him on the shoulder before leaving the ring to his music. No date for the title match.
Overall, both guys were okay on the mic in this stand-and-deliver back-and-forth promo. These types of WWE promos rarely feel natural, and it did not come across like a natural exchange at times. They got the point across, though, about Reigns being confident and borderline cocky, but not caring whether you like it or don’t like it. Styles was also clearly presented as a counter babyface to Reigns, who is babyface to half the crowd and unlikable to another half. It’s a bit of a Cena-Punk face versus face dynamic with clear rooting interests for the different fanbases.
Tonight: WWE announced the main event of A.J. Styles & Cesaro vs. Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens.
(1) The Vaudevillains beat Lucha Dragons (U.S. champion Kalisto & Sin Cara) at 4:02. Eh debut for the NXT call-ups. The crowd didn’t know what to make of their act, but clapped along to the old-time music. The Vaudevillians did a lot of pre-match posing for the hard camera. It was not clear if they’re heel or face (we’ll have to check back with Jerry Lawler’s commentary on Thursday for the cue). The crowd sat on their hands when they were on offense, then Kalisto got pinned. The crowd was really taken out by that since there were a lot of Hispanic fans in the audience and Lucha Dragons was the only lucha act of the night. For Kalisto, not a good week to be a mid-card champ. The crowd sat quietly as the Vaudes celebrated the win, not sure why Kalisto just lost.
Speaking of which, video review of Miz winning the IC Title from Zack Ryder on Raw last night. The re-match is tonight.
Summer Rae was introduced to the ring for a “women’s division” match. Women’s champion Charlotte and Ric Flair were out next to hop on commentary. More like Charlotte was on commentary and Flair just sat next to her. After a video review of everyone walking out on Charlotte’s Raw promo until Natalya verbally challenged her, Natalya was introduced as Summer’s opponent.
(2) Natalya beat Summer Rae via submission at 2:53. Natalya put Summer in the Sharpshooter right in front of Charlotte, who sold not being impressed. They had a post-match stare down that ended pretty quickly. Natalya quickly exited, then Charlotte exited, but had to come back to get Flair, who took his time up the entrance ramp while the lights were down. “C’mon dad!” moment.
WWE then took the crowd down with that cheesy WWE Shop music video that sounds like background music for a computer tutorial. Zack Ryder was out first for the IC Title match. Maryse was then introduced on-stage. Virtually no reaction – the combination of the crowd taken down, the crowd forgetting who Maryse is, or having no idea who she is since there are a lot of newer fans. Maryse said behind every great man, there is a great woman. She presented her husband, The Miz. Maryse seems to have exited “pro wrestler mode” after being away for so long. Her TV involvement doesn’t seem like a long-term thing. But, if it is, Maryse will have to re-enter “pro wrestler mode.”
(3) IC champion The Miz beat Zack Ryder at 9:40 to retain the Intercontinental Title. Ryder showed a lot of fire early on, trying to stay on Miz looking for pinfalls. Miz weathered the storm and slowed the pace. When he was in trouble again, Maryse frantically undid the bottom turnbuckle pad and chucked it into the ring towards Ryder. He picked it up, which brought over the ref, who tried to re-arrange it while Miz smashed Ryder in the face. Miz then hit the Skullcrushing Finale for the win. So much for Ryder’s run.
The return date to Houston is August 29 for Raw (one week after Summerslam). The pre-sale code running through Friday is “Tickets.”
The Social Outcasts came to the ring to decide who would face Apollo Crews. They did paper, rock, scissors. Axel ended up with paper to the other three having scissors, so he got “cut.” Axel turned his scissors into an ax, saying an ax beats all of them, but he jumped into the ring anyways. Random. Apollo Crews was introduced to a polite reception.
(4) Apollo Crews beat Curtis Axel (w/Bo Dallas, Heath Slater, and Adam Rose) at 2:36. Basic singles match that was going short. Crews hit the delayed sit-out powerbomb for the win. He’s going to have to tighten that finish up since Cole got lost calling it on Raw and it looked slow-motion live tonight.
Tonight: Dean Ambrose is on Smackdown after WrestleMania. The crowd fired up for his graphic and his music. This was followed by another push for “Camp WWE” on WWE Network. They must have run 5-7 ads for the show over the course of the night. Kids are going to have nightmares about Vince McMahon’s animated voice and animated Flair doing unspeakable things.
Backstage: The Dudleys called out Roman Reigns. It goes down tonight. This was a house show-style local promo that was for the post-main event.
Backstage Interview: Baron Corbin said the End of Days is already here. He said he wants to end Ziggler after their Raw match. Very basic promo. Perhaps not the right setting for him to get over his character. The crowd was also fading from the lack of activity.
Backstage Interview: Becky Lynch, with her messed-up eye. She said she will never stop chasing the Women’s Title. Very fired-up promo. Emma interrupted and told her she belongs at the back of the line. They took digs at each other and Emma closed with a dig about her eye.
Back in the ring, Dean Ambrose appeared to the biggest pop since Styles. Dean was way over with everyone. And then they killed his vibe by randomly showing the WM33 Orlando outer space video.
Then, a promo for the Colons as tourism guides in Puerto Rico.
Then, Tyler Breeze was introduced as Dean’s opponent. The crowd was hot for Dean, ready to see him fight, then they were progressively brought down again. Did not make sense.
(5) Dean Ambrose beat Tyler Breeze at 1:11. Rebound lariat and Dirty Deeds for the recovery win after losing to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. Short work for Dean.
As Dean exited, Chris Jericho’s pyro shot off. Dean sold intrigue and met Jericho on the ramp, but Jericho walked on past him. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Perhaps post-Mania feud for Dean and Jericho?
The advertised tag match is next. During the “break,” Jericho cut a local heel promo trying to rile up the crowd. Master work from Jericho. It’s really jarring when he speaks because he sounds like the best promo in the history of the business juxtaposed to the rest of the rosters’s limited promo abilities. After insulting the fans, he paused to let the crowd get even louder. He then shouted that he’s coming after the next person who yells “Y2Jackass” at him. Of course, the chant broke out and he feigned going after the whole arena. Great work.
Kevin Owens came out next. WWE reviewed Owens attacking Sami Zayn on Raw, then Owens and Jericho sold not getting along as tag partners. Cesaro was then out first for the face team doing his James Bond routine from Raw. Styles out last. And Jericho found himself in a PWG match on WWE TV.
(6) A.J. Styles & Cesaro beat Chris Jericho & Kevin Owens at 12:04. Overall, very good tag match. They went to an early “break” when the heels got knocked to the outside, so the teams did a really funny comedy sequence. Jericho sold getting really mad, chucking items across ringside. So, Owens imitated him to join his anger. Then, Styles and Cesaro carefully placed the announce table top back on the announce table to applause. They also replaced the ring steps that Jericho and Owens kicked. So, Jericho took a chair and smashed the table top to laughs. Owens then snuck back to the announce table and removed it again before running back to his corner. The match resumed in the ring with some good action and sequences. After Cesaro wiped out Jericho on the outside, it was down to Owens and Styles. Sami Zayn suddenly walked down to ringside surrounded by refs and agents. Zayn distracted Owens, allowing Styles to roll up Owens from behind for the win.
Zayn, who was sporting a taped elbow, got into a big ringside brawl with Owens. Zayn initially got the upper hand, but Owens smashed him into the barricade. Owens pounded Zayn until the refs and agents pulled him away and restrained him from damaging Zayn even further. This appeared to be where Smackdown ended. It’s possible the next part was part of Smackdown, though, but the Dudleys’s earlier promo seemed local.
Styles remained in the ring and the Dudleys attacked him from behind. Suddenly, Roman Reigns came down to the ring and cleared the Dudleys as Styles sold the attack. A.J. and Reigns then had a big stare down reluctant to shake each other’s hand. Reigns offered first, but Styles balked. Styles then offered, but Reigns balked. They stared at each other for a while before finally shaking hands.
This was definitely off-air. Jericho interrupted from ringside. He had a message for everyone to shut up. Jericho told Styles to shake his hand and apologize for being rude to him leading into WrestleMania. Great mic work. Styles said all right, all right, I’ll be good. But, Jericho kept going and pushed too far, so Styles dropped him with the Styles Clash. Jericho recoiled into the corner and then stumbled into a big spear from Reigns.
Reigns’s music played and the babyfaces appealing to different fanbases posed in the ring to close the show. Victory laps around ringside before Styles’s music played one more time. Eden closed things out at precisely the three-hour mark. So, Styles and Reigns were set up as cautious babyface friends who are also competitors wanting the top gold. So, Reigns not turning heel at this point. More like appealing to his fanbase not doing anything heelish to make them doubt his character, while also trying to seem like not that bad of a guy hanging out with super-fan favorite Styles. The idea being trying to win over some of the anti-Reigns fans, but if it doesn’t happen, then at least he has his fanbase.
Notably, several stars were missing tonight. No Authority references at all in front of the live crowd, no League of Nations, no Wyatts, and no crowd favorite Sasha Banks, who was at the hospital being evaluated for WM32 injuries. Overall, a bit of reset trying to introduce newer stars who are going to need time to catch on. And, the interesting situation of Reigns vs. Styles. They’ll need someone to talk with them, which is why Jericho will be vital as a third wheel. Or, Hunter/Stephanie when they return.