SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Opening With Lesnar and Heyman – MISS: This opening to Smackdown didn’t work. It was interesting to see them play the entire Brock Lesnar vs. Cain Velazquez match from Crown Jewel the day before, but after all the hype, it didn’t seem like a great payoff to that match. The real issue is that Brock Lesnar quit Smackdown. Paul Heyman tried to justify how he’s able to quit by talking about litigation, but it still raises the question as to why other wrestlers don’t quit to go to a different brand. WWE just did the draft a few weeks ago, and to already have a top star switching brands is a terrible way to go to kill the concept of the hard brand split. And the whole point of Heyman’s promo is that wrestlers contracted to FOX can’t appear on a show on USA and vice-versa, but that fact was contradicted throughout the show by all the NXT wrestlers. Also, I’m not looking forward to a Lesnar vs. Mysterio match which this is setting up.
Bayley vs. Cross – HIT: The Women’s Championship match between Bayley and Nikki Cross was good. Cross was the right one to get this Title shot and she worked well with Bayley to put on the good match. Sasha Banks getting involved to help Bayley win was predictable, but worked well to continue to cement Bayley as a heel.
Shayna Baszler – HIT: After the Women’s Title match, Shayna Baszler showed up and beat the crap out of Banks, Cross and Bayley. It was the start of the NXT Invasion angle which would dominate the show. With the announcement the day before that NXT would be part of the battle of the brands at Survivor Series, it made sense to have her come out to make a statement against the Smackdown Women’s Champion. She may have been on even without the Saudi Arabia travel debacle where WWE had to scramble to put together a show without most of their roster. Baszler looked like a dominant star and this should make fans want to tune into NXT on Wednesday to see more of her.
Riddle and Lee – HIT: This was the first sign of an NXT invasion. Baszler’s appearance could be chalked up to her making a statement ahead of Survivor Series. But, Matt Riddle and Kieth Lee have nothing to do with that PPV (yet), so this showed that WWE was indeed going that route. It made some sense given the limited crew that they had, and this segment worked well in large part due to Sami Zayn’s obnoxious behavior and the fans wanting to see Riddle and Lee beat him up. Lee and Riddle had teamed on NXT so pairing them together made logical sense too.
MizTV – MISS: Despite what was said during this segment, I don’t know of anyone who has been clamoring for a battle between The Miz and Tomasso Ciampa on the mic. It was a babyface vs. babyface dynamic which didn’t work too well here. The actual mic work from both was fine, but the whole “Miz is an actor playing wrestler” bit is totally played out and didn’t work well here. It seemed more like an angle from a few years ago than something that really fits into Miz’s character.
Miz vs. Ciampa – HIT: Despite not being too high on the set up segment for this match, the match itself delivered. It was cool to see Ciampa on a bigger stage. It was nice to see an 8 minute match uninterrupted by a commercial break. Ciampa did a great job of selling a knee injury as Miz took advantage of his history of knee problems during the match. It built well to the ending with Ciampa continuing NXT’s momentum with the big win.
Ripley & Nox vs. Fire & Desire – MISS: This is where the whole Invasion angle started to fall apart. The idea of wrestling for brand supremacy is stupid. I hate it when personal feuds are put on hold every November to have wrestlers working together just because they happened to get drafted to Raw or Smackdown. Weren’t Rhea Ripley and Tegan Nox fighting Bianca Bel Air on NXT two days before? NXT is setting up the first ever women’s War Games match with Ripley & Nox on the opposing team to Bel Air. That match is happening right before Survivor Series. Are we expected to believe that they put their differences aside two days after beating the hell out of each other to work together for NXT pride or something? Ripley just got to NXT, so she doesn’t even have a history there. Bel Air took out Fire & Desire’s scheduled opponents, Dana Brooke and Carmella leaving Ripley & Nox to face them instead. Here we got a babyface vs. heel match up and Ripley & Nox looked great. But, the concept of it was problematic.
Stephanie McMahon – MISS: I can’t get excited about one women’s match after several Saudi shows with zero women’s matches (especially when they didn’t do the 2nd Evolution PPV which makes the 1st Evolution feel even more like a token gesture to the women’s roster to make up for being left off of these shows). It technically is progress, but that doesn’t change the fact that WWE should not be in business with this terrible regime. So we get this big announcement from Stephanie McMahon about it which came across as disingenuous. Natalya and Lacey Evans had to wear full body suits just to appear on the show. After helping to spread Saudi propaganda for two years, patting yourself on the back for creating a historic moment is crass at this point.
Cole vs. Bryan – HIT: I wasn’t going to complain about the chance of seeing Adam Cole and Daniel Bryan in a main event on Smackdown. Yes, itt could have been built up to in a long story to build anticipation to seeing it, but WWE was put in a bind by the travel issues. Having to hot shot is perfectly understandable in these circumstances. Plus we got to see Cole vs. Bryan which turned out to be a great 20 minute match. There were a few scary moments with some of Cole’s offense on Bryan’s head and neck given his history of concussions that I could have done without, but otherwise it was great. I was assuming that Triple H or Shawn Michaels would get involved to help Cole win, so I was pleasantly surprised when Cole got the clean win. Cole needed the win to presumably set up a triple threat match with him, Lesnar and The Fiend. Plus they were putting the exclamation point on NXT dominating the depleted Smackdown roster.
Final Moment – MISS: The problem with the way the show ended has everything to do with the problems of the concept of brand vs. brand. Presenting NXT as the star instead of Cole or Riddle or Ciampa or Baszler is a mistake. Yes, fans love NXT and love to chant N-X-T but that doesn’t mean as much as the fans getting behind individual stars which WWE is failing to make right now. As I said above, it hurts the credibility of your storylines and characters. I don’t want to see Riddle, Lee and Ciampa standing proud in the same ring as the Undisputed Era. They hate each other. And the person who got the mic work at the end was Triple H who isn’t even on NXT very often. It is a mistake to put the focus on an authority figure instead of a wrestler. It is a mistake to focus on brand supremacy instead of individual characters and issues. Now, despite these reservations, I did enjoy this show. It had that feeling of anything can happen. It felt more unscripted than usual (probably because it was). It was fun to see these NXT stars on a bigger stage. On a purely entertainment level, I enjoyed this Smackdown more than I have any other since the move to Fox. But, long term damage is done despite the pure enjoyment of the moment watching for these two hours.
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Jon Mezzera is PWTorch.com’s WWE Hits & Misses Specialist, providing his point of view for Raw and Smackdown each week. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JonMezzera