KELLER & POWELL FLAGSHIP (12/5)
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KELLER’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
DECEMBER 25, 2018
TAPED DEC. 18 IN FRESNO, CALIF.
AIRED ON USA NETWORK
Announcers: Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton, Corey Graves
-The camera showed one side of the lower bowl with a spotlight shining on fans as the announcers introduced the show. They hyped the scheduled matches including Rusev challenging Shinsuke Nakamura for the U.S. Title in the main event, plus Miz TV with Shane McMahon.
-R-Truth and Carmella came to the ring. Truth was in a Santa outfit. Carmella was dressed as an elf in high heels and striped long socks. Truth called her “Carm-elfa.” Carmella called for a Seven Second Carol Break. Truth was confused, thinking it was a woman named Carol. Then they sang (poorly) “Jingle Bells” until Daniel Bryan interrupted. Boos. He strode onto the stage in his hoodie and a belt wrapped crookedly around his waist. He said as WWE Champion, he accepts that instead of spending time with his family on Christmas, “I have to be in this cesspool.” (He spoke generically since they were in the same city as last week’s Smackdown, and a lot of fans, especially kids, had to think he was confused since it was a week before Christmas and he had plenty of time to get home.)
He said it may not be obvious to the fans, but Truth is not the real Santa Clause. He said just like he exposed A.J. Styles, he is exposing Santa. He said Santa is the epitome of all of their cheap material desires. He said over the last 40 years, their materialistic desires have cost us half of the coral reef on the planet and islands of misfit garbage. He said because they want more and more, they get more and more islands of misfit trash. He told Truth that wanting more and more also causes the glaciers to melt and sea levels to rise “and in 20 years there will be no North Pole and there will be no Santa Claus.”
(Keller’s Analysis: I still am not on board with making Bryan out to be some hysterical alarmist when he’s just repeating legitimate concerns about human-caused climate change. Would it be okay to laugh at a heel character who was spouting pro-gay rights or anti-religion or anti-voter suppression messages or anti-Black Lives Matter views and claim he’s “just a heel because he’s obnoxious in the preachy way he delivers the message”? There seems to be a pro-corporate/anti-environmental-regulation message that is behind this Bryan character, trying to get the “masses” to see warnings about climate change as rantings of a preachy obnoxious madman instead of, you know, consensus science. Is this that different than if a heel in the mid-1970s preached about pulling asbestos from buildings because it causes cancer or banning lead in paint because of the health risks and everyone just laughed at and booed the “crazed preachy mad man” citing the latest science because the way he delivered the message was a little too forceful and made people uncomfortable?)
Truth said, “Ooh, he’s an angry little elf.” Bryan asked Truth is he thinks this is a big joke. Bryan said Truth’s career is a tired old joke, so he shouldn’t be surprised. Truth bragged that because of Mixed Match Challenge, he’ll be no. 30 in the Royal Rumble and so maybe after winning the Rumble, he’ll beat Bryan for the WWE Title and he’ll be the last one laughing “if you are still the champion at Mania.” Bryan asked how on Earth he expects to win the Rumble when he cannot even count to 30. Truth counted to seven and then stopped for a Seven Second Dance Break. Bryan attacked a dancing Truth. Phillips asked what is wrong with him. Bryan went after Truth’s leg in the ring as Carmella begged him to let go. [c]
(1) ANDRADE CIEN ALMAS (w/Zelina Vega) vs. MUSTAFA ALI
Graves said Almas has high aspirations in the Royal Rumble match. Saxton said every time he sees Almas, he gets better and better. After Ali arrived at the ring, they showed highlights of the tag match last week with Ali taking it to Bryan and Almas ending with Ali pinning Bryan. Almas opened with a running dropkick at the bell. Phillips said this match is an example of the McMahons talking about new opportunities and new match-ups. Phillips talked about Almas wrestling under a mask in Mexico and also Japan. Graves talked about Vega handling the minutia of day to day career management so Almas can concentrate on winning matches. After a distraction by Vega, Almas shoved Ali off the top rope to the floor. [c]
They stayed with the acton on split screen. Ali made a comeback during the break. Almas knocked him down with an elbow and took control again after the commercial break ended. Almas landed a double stomp off the top rope and scored a two count. Ali came back with a satellite DDT and then a 540 for the win.
WINNER: Ali in 11:00.
(Keller’s Analysis: They better have big plans for Ali because sacrificing the Almas/Vega team like this with a clean loss in a ten minute TV match is a big price to pay.)
-Graves plugged Miz TV with guest Shane McMahon. Saxton plugged Jeff Hardy vs. Samoa Joe.
-The Usos made their ring entrance. [c]
-A promo aired with Samoa Joe in the locker room. He told Jeff Hardy that he can make new memories this year to make up for memories he destroyed. He said he’s concerned about him because he saw a look in his eye that indicated he’s looking for a place to park his desires and replace his prior impulses. He said he thinks he, Joe, is Jeff’s new addiction. He told Jeff to trust him that what he has in store for him is for his own good.
(2) THE USOS & KARL ANDERSON & LUKE GALLOWS vs. THE BAR (Sheamus & Cesaro) & SANITY (Killian Dane & Alexander Wolfe w/Eric Young)
They returned to the ring for the tail end of Sanity’s ring entrance theme playing as they stood in the ring. Anderson and Gallows were already in the ring. Then New Day crashed the match. They showed fans reacting positively and enthusiastically to New Day, holding up pancake signs and synching up with their catch phrases. Big E rubbed oil on his chest while dressed as Santa. Graves told Big E it’s not appropriate and to stop it. Saxton told Graves to “just enjoy it.” Kofi and Xavier were also in Christmas outfits. They sat at their special announce position next to the main announce desk. The Bar then came out to their full ring entrance. Phillips said, regarding Big E oiling his pecs, “What Big E is doing right now is atrocious.” They cut to an early break with Dane taking it to Jey Uso. [c]
After the break, Xavier said “Eric Young, full psychopath.” That instantly doubled Young’s character development since arriving on the main roster up to that point. Chaos eventually broke out with the Usos delivering a number of super kicks to heels who were feeding them one after another. Cesaro countered with a pop-up uppercut, but Anderson and Gallows gave him a Magic Killer seconds later for the win.
WINNERS: Anderson & Gallows & The Usos in 9:00.
-Phillips threw to a video montage on the six wrestlers arriving in 2019 from NXT.
-They went backstage to 205 Live wrestlers congratulating Ali on his success including Brian Kendrick, Akira Tozawa, and Cedric Alexander. Shelton Benjamin then walked up to him and said he’d like to officially welcome him to the Smackdown roster. Ali said coming from him that means a lot. Bryan then attacked Ali from behind and he yelled that he doesn’t deserve to be there. [c]
-Miz made his ring entrance. He wished fans a Merry Christmas and introduced his “co-bestie” Shane McMahon. Shane danced out. He slapped hands on his way to the ring. Fans yelled “Shane-o-Mac.” He thanked them and wished everyone Merry Christmas. He didn’t go for the cheap pop by naming the city because they were still in Fresno. Miz asked if he saw his tag match last week. Shane said it was very impressive. He said that’s not why he was there. Miz asked him to discuss the changes the McMahons are bringing to Smackdown. Shane said he and his family are overseeing Raw and Smackdown now (as if they weren’t before??!?) He said they’re not the story, though. He said they’re listening. He said if they want new Superstars, they’re on their way. He said they’re already getting new match-ups. And Smackdown has always been “The Land of Opportunity.” He said now all of the fans “are going to shape that narrative and create those opportunities. We’re listening to you.”
(Keller’s Analysis: What a bunch of nonsense and platitudes. Shane was IN CHARGE OF SMACKDOWN ALL ALONG, so what?… He needed Vince or Stephanie or Hunter to cause him to increase the opportunities he was giving in the Land of Opportunity? They’re promising to improve with literally the same people in charge and no admission of any mistakes in the past, just vague promises that things happening next wouldn’t have happened next if they didn’t start this new initiative of listening to the fans. It’s so patronizing.)
Miz asked Shane what it means now that four members of the McMahon clan are running things now, and if that means he has more time to team with him as The Best Tag Team in the World. Miz said he proved last week he can tag with anybody and be successful. Miz said people accuse him of sucking up or wanting special treatment, but that’s not true. “This is about my dad,” he said. He said he’s been in WWE over a decade. He listed all of his title reigns. He said his dad has never said he’s proud of him. He said after he headlined WrestleMania, all his dad said was, “You should thank The Rock for helping you.”
He said he is always asking if what he accomplishes is enough for his dad and it never is. He said after the Best in the World tournament, his dad was impressed with Shane. He said his dad usually likes the 205 Live aerial guys. He said his dad said if Miz could team with Shane, he’d be proud of him. He said he thought for the first time in his life he thought he broke through to his dad. He got choked up, then told Shane he knows he has more important things to do and he’s sorry he brought him into it. He said he thinks Shane should let the fans decide whether they team together. Miz asked the fans and the fans chanted “Yes!” Shane looked around and said everything Miz just said really resonated with him. “That was heavy,” he said. “You better not screw me or there will be major consequences, but let’s try this.” He shook Miz’s hand. Graves called it a Christmas Miracle. Miz said Bryan doesn’t do it anymore, and he said he created it anyway, so he went into shooting his arms in the air doing the “Yes!” celebration.
-Rusev, alongside Lana, said it’s not just Rusev Day, it’s also his birthday. He said to celebrate his birthday, he’s going to bring everyone a brand new handsome United States Champion. He said it won’t just be Christmas Day or his birthday, but also Rusev Day. [c]
-A commercial hyped Dolph Ziggler vs. Drew McIntyre in a cage match next Monday night on Raw.
(3) SAMOA JOE vs. JEFF HARDY
Joe beat down Hardy early in the match. They cut to an early break. [c]
Hardy dominated during the break on split screen. Graves said what Joe is doing to poke and prod Hardy about his addiction issues might be classless, but demons are just lurking below the surface and Joe has a master plan to haunt Hardy. Joe took over for a while, but then Hardy made another comeback. Saxton talked about all of the momentum changes in the match. Hardy landed Whisper in the Wind for a near fall. Hardy landed a Twist of Fate, but when Hardy climbed to the top rope, Joe rolled to the floor. Hardy hit Joe with a flying clothesline at ringside. Hardy stomped away at Joe and threw repeated knees until the ref DQ’d him. Graves said Jeff was so wrapped up in the emotions he didn’t care about losing by DQ. He then threw Joe onto the announce desk. Joe came back with a Coquina Clutch on the floor. Two referees yelled at Joe and said it was enough. Joe let go and huffed and puffed while standing over Hardy.
WINNER: Joe via DQ in 9:00.
(Keller’s Analysis: I don’t get the psychology of Jeff and Joe wrestling a standard back and forth match, but then Jeff just arbitrarily snapping at the end once they went to ringside, nor do I see the value in having Joe end up getting the best of Hardy fair and square at ringside despite the brutal barrage of knees Hardy threw at Joe that got him DQ’d just seconds earlier that suddenly Joe just stopped selling entirely out of nowhere. Everything there felt arbitrary.)
-In a backstage vignette, Nakamura talked about defending his U.S. Title against Rusev later. He said Rusev has been naughty this year, so all he’ll get is a knee to the face. [c]
-Saxton hyped a New Day New Year’s Celebration next week. Phillips said John Cena returns to Smackdown Live next week to ring in 2019.
-Backstage the Usos talked about their big win. Jimmy said he was going to go find his wife. Then Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville walked up. Mandy stood under the mistletoe and said he doesn’t know what he’s missing. Naomi charged at her. Jimmy held her back. Jimmy told her to relax because she has nothing to worry about. Naomi collected herself, then smiled as they discovered the mistletoe. They kissed and hugged and wished each other Merry Christmas.
(4) SHINSUKE NAKAMURA vs. RUSEV (w/Lana) – U.S. Title match
Challenger Rusev’s ring entrance took place first. Then Nakamura’s took place. He still has one of the best entrance routines in the business. There was a “Nakamura/Rusev Day” dueling chant, but oddly no fan on camera was participating in it. A back-and-forth hard-hitting opening minute or two. Rusev avoided an armbar and rolled to the floor to regroup. They cut to an early break. [c]
(A commercial hyped NXT TV with Heavy Machinery vs. Undisputed Era.)
Nakamura was in control after the break with his Bad Vibrations. More dueling chants despite no fans on camera in the crowd participating. The announcers called it a lively Christmas night crowd. Loud boos from phantom fans when Nakamura went after Rusev with stomps against the ropes for a four count before breaking. As more mysterious boos rang out, the only indication of crowd reaction was a big guy in the upper left of the screen letting out a big yawn. Nakamura kicked Rusev off the ring apron. They cut to another break at 11:00. [c]
Nakamura was in control after the break. At 17:00 Rusev finally made a comeback leading to a fallaway slam and a two count. Nakamura attempted a comeback, but Rusev cut it short and delivered a knee and a round kick for a near fall. When he got over his frustration and went for an Accolade, Nakamura slipped out to ringside. Rusev went after him and threw him into the ringside barricade. Nakamura came back by throwing Rusev into the ringside steps and then the announce table. Then he landed a knee to Rusev’s back off the ring apron.
In the ring, Nakamura leaped off the second rope with a flying knee. He signaled for the Kinshasa, but Rusev caught him with a Machka Kick for a believable near fall. A loud “Rusev Day!” chant broke out, although no fans on camera were participating. Nakamura surprised Rusev with a triangle submission attempt. Rusev lifted Nakamura and slammed him. Another “Rusev Day!” chant broke out, again with zero fans on camera participating. Nakamura avoided a charging Ruesv and then rolled up him up for a near fall. Nakamura delivered a running knee to the back of his head for a two count. A mysterious “This is awesome!” chant broke out. Some fans were clearly participating, but most fans on camera were just sitting there. Rusev nailed Nakamura with a hard clothesline after avoiding a Kishasa kick and Nakamura flip bumped. Rusev then landed Machka Kick for the win.
Lana celebrated with a smiling Rusev in the ring. “What a moment for Rusev!” exclaimed Phillips. A “Rusev Day!” chant broke out and they showed fans actually chanting this time. They showed fans taking pictures of Rusev celebrating.
WINNER: Rusev in 21:00 to capture the U.S. Title.
(Keller’s Analysis: It was a good match. Not necessarily “very good” and certainly not “awesome.” But it was good enough, I suppose, for a TV main event and a U.S. Title change. There’s just a third gear with Nakamura that he can’t seem to break out of on the main roster. Good to see what appears to be a higher level push for Rusev. It might be too late to get the full effect they could have gotten when Rusev first broke out with unexpected intense fan support.)
-Backstage A.J. Styles asked Vince Mcmahon if he wanted to see him. Vince asked Styles what his name is. A.J. was shocked and said, “A.J. Styles, the Phenomenal One.” Vince asked him why he wasn’t competing in his own house tonight. Vince said he wants t know who the real A.J. Styles is. He said he’s seen wrestlers come and go, win their championships, earn their money, and become complacent and then go home. He said he knows that’s not him because whether he likes it or not, they’re alike. He said Styles has a black hole in his heart. “I know it,” he said. “I also know you have a tremendous soul. You’re afraid of what’s going to happen here and you can’t control what’s going to happen.” He said if that’s what he has, he wants to see it. He said if he harnesses all of that, he will brutalize that locker room and terrorize anyone who steps foot in that squared circle. He said there’s an animal in there begging to get out. “That animal is eating you alive and you want it come out. I want to see it, I want to see that animal. Oh yeah, I want to see it, A.J.! I’m going to see it.” He slapped Styles. Then Styles punched Vince. Vince went down as Styles stood over him and yelled. A referee ran up and asked if he was okay. Vince smiled and said, “Yeah, I think I’m good.”
(Keller’s Analysis: Okay, that was strange. I guess Vince is trying to bring out a more aggressive version of Styles and give him a bit of a McMahon rub. We’ll have to see where this goes.)
FINAL THOUGHTS: They didn’t overdo it on the Christmas theme nonsense. The rest of the show was neither exhilarating nor offensive. It was just there. It was fine, but there was a sense everyone was eager to get out of there and decompress for the holidays. The crowd noise sweetening might have been necessary given how fatigued the fans seemed who stuck around for the taping of this show after last week’s live show, but WWE overdid it. It is interesting, though, to “hear a crowd react how they’re supposed to” to heels cheating. If WWE is looking for loud “boos” when heels doing bad things, why don’t they otherwise build into their narrative that heels should be looked down upon for cheating and taking shortcuts instead of the nonstop nonsense about how you should be applauded for doing whatever it takes to win?