LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT 3/12: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of first fan-free event, John Cena & Bray Wyatt, Jeff Hardy Returns, Triple H on commentary, more

By Brandon LeClair, PWTorch contributor



SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...

LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
MARCH 12, 2020
ORLANDO, FL AT WWE PERFORMANCE CENTER
AIRED LIVE ON FOX NETWORK

Announcers: Michael Cole, Triple H

-The show opened cold to Triple H in a darkened WWE Performance Center. He touted the merits of the building over pictures and video clips of the center during full usage. He ran down a list of names who came through the Performance Center en route to the main roster. He said tonight, those Superstars return.

He said the show will be different than anything the audience has seen before. He recommended fans sit back, relax and forget about what’s going on in the world. He welcomed everyone to Smackdown.

The camera panned and the lights came up, revealing the set utilized for this past week’s episode of NXT. Michael Cole welcomed the audience to the show and ran down the night’s major events.

-Bayley and Sasha Banks headed to the ring. Triple H joined Michael Cole on commentary.

Bayley asked for her music to be turned off. She and Sasha played to imaginary fans. Bayley said that, as the faces of Smackdown, they decided to kick off the show. Sasha said it’s fitting they decided to come back to the Performance Center, the house they built.

Bayley and Sasha asked Triple H where Paige is. Michael Cole told them she had travel issues. Sasha said she’s just jealous, like the rest of the division. Alexa Bliss’ music hit. She and Nikki Cross walked onto the stage. Bliss said she and Nikki want to challenge Asuka and Kairi Sane for the tag team titles, but they’re hiding on Raw. They challenged Banks and Bayley to a match tonight. Bayley agreed and asked for a referee.

(1) SASHA BANKS & BAYLEY vs. ALEXA BLISS & NIKKI CROSS

Bayley began the match with Nikki Cross. Cross quickly backed Bayley into the corner, delivered a hard shoulder and tagged in Bliss. Alexa dropped Bayley then tagged Nikki back in. The two traded frequent tags, hitting quick moves on Bayley. Sasha Banks eventually intervened and helped Bayley leave the ring.

Cross came after Banks, taking her down. Bliss shot through the ropes to drop Bayley. Cross and Bliss returned to the ring and hugged. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Back from the break, Bayley had Alexa Bliss isolated in the corner. She tagged in Banks, who stomped away at Bliss in the corner. Bliss quickly recovered, taking Sasha down with a headscissor takeover. Banks fought back, sending Bliss into the corner and hitting double running knees for a two count. Cole and Triple H talked extensively about the history of the Performance Center.

Banks tagged in Bayley. Sasha kicked Bliss behind the referee’s back. Bayley worked over Bliss briefly, then tagged Sasha back in. Sasha hit Bliss with a suplex. Nikki tried to start a chant for Bliss on the apron. (Huh?) Banks put an arm hold on Bliss. Nikki stomped on the steps to fire up Bliss. Alexa broke free, but Bliss tagged in Bayley. Bayley grabbed a headlock.

Bayley and Banks traded tags, continuing to isolate Bliss. Alexa caught an elbow and rushed to make a tag and finally got one. Cross came in screaming. She hit a bulldog out of the corner, then went for a spinning DDT from the ropes but Bliss tossed her away. Nikki rolled up Bliss for a two count, then a small package for another two.

Cross hit a basement dropkick then climbed to the top rope, connecting with a top rope cross body. Bayley broke the pin attempt up at two. Asuka appeared at ringside, she ripped Bliss off the apron and tossed her into the ring post. Banks hit the back cracker on Cross and rolled into the Bank Statement for a tap out win.

WINNERS: Sasha Banks & Bayley in 11:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: To say this was strange and eerie would be an understatement. I think we got our answer relatively quickly. Wrestling needs fans to work. The four women did well enough at disguising their calls, enough so that you have to wonder whether or not these matches were heavily scripted and rehearsed earlier today. The action was fine. Standard WWE TV tag fodder. Asuka’s appearance seems to indicate that Bliss and Cross will be in line for a tag team title shot at some point.

From a presentation standpoint, rotating commentators joining Cole will be interesting throughout the night. Triple H seemed well equipped for the job, though he and Cole spent most of the match talking about the Performance Center and these women’s history in it rather than discussing the action itself. We’ll see if that trend continues throughout the night.)

-After the break, Cole threw to a clip from Smackdown two weeks ago, when Roman Reigns declared his intent to face Goldberg.

Back live, Michael Cole stood in the ring and welcomed Roman Reigns. Roman’s music played and he walked to the ring. Reigns gave Cole a fist bump and sat down next to him. Cole asked him how weird it was to enter into an empty arena. Reigns said it was very strange.

Cole asked him about facing Goldberg at WrestleMania. Reigns said it feels good to be back in the main event. Cole said there’s been critics saying that Reigns “put himself” in the main event of WrestleMania. Reigns countered by saying he main events every night in places like Youngstown, Ohio. “Why shouldn’t I main event the biggest show of the year?” Reigns said no one is as dedicated as he is. “I’m not bowing down to anybody,” Reigns said.

Cole brought up Goldberg’s comments about “bulldozing” Reigns. Reigns said Goldberg isn’t smart enough to operate a bulldozer (having gone to Georgia.) Reigns then complimented Goldberg, but said he’s a part timer. “We don’t have time for that here,” Reigns said. Roman said he was born, bred, and groomed for this. Reigns said he’s gonna take the Universal title back and “set this place right.”

(LeClair’s Analysis: Aside from the weirdness of the night’s circumstances, the content of Reigns’ promo seemed to indicate a direction I don’t think is exactly wise to take with this angle. Calling Goldberg a part timer is fine, but having Reigns call himself the most dedicated guy in the company over and over is not something that has worked well for him in the past, and something I think fans continue to think rings hollow. I can’t imagine this would’ve been particularly well received in front of a live crowd, and perhaps that’s why they thought they could get away with this again. At this point, with WrestleMania’s future uncertain, this may not even matter, but it’s a curious direction nonetheless.)

-Backstage, Kayla Braxton was interrupted by Cesaro. He introduced Sami Zayn. Braxton cut him off, saying they’ve been bumped from the interview. Zayn said that’s fine, because they’ve got celebrating to do. Kayla welcomed her actual guest, Jeff Hardy.

Jeff said he’s happy to be back, and the healthiest he’s ever been. He said he’s got a lot more to do in WWE. King Corbin walked onto screen. He said things have changed since Hardy left. Corbin asked Hardy if he was going to participate in any number of field sobriety tests. Hardy said he’s actually in a match against Corbin.

Hardy walked away as Elias strummed his guitar and walked into frame. He wanted to play a song for Corbin, but Corbin walked away before he could begin.

-Cole said that the Tag Team Championship Elimination Chamber match (from Elimination Chamber) would be up next. Curiously, he made no mention of this being a replay.

-After the break, Triple H returned to the commentary table with Michael Cole. Triple H said he’s the only guy to get demoted and somehow get busier. He said it only took one segment for the Internet to tell him he needed to return and save the show. Cole said he guesses they’re going to “shoot” tonight. He rolled into a recap of Daniel Bryan’s match with Drew Gulak from Elimination Chamber

-Backstage, Daniel Bryan approached Drew Gulak and said nearly a week after their match, his neck still hurt. He said Gulak had a counter for everything, and that he was eager to learn from him if Gulak was willing to teach. Sami Zayn, Cesaro, and Shinsuke Nakamura walked into frame. Zayn laughed at Bryan. He said Bryan has been reduced to asking for wrestling tips from a nobody after being destroyed by The Fiend.

Bryan stepped up to Zayn, but Cesaro cut him off. Bryan said his issue is with Zayn. Cesaro said he’d have to go through him first. Bryan challenged him to a match.

-Back at ringside, Cole asked Triple H if they could make that match official. “After a promo like that from Shinsuke Nakamura, you can,” Triple H responded.

Cole threw to a replay of the Smackdown Tag Team Championship Elimination Chamber match from last Sunday. He said “let’s take you to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania” as though he wasn’t tossing to a replay.

(LeClair’s Analysis: This is all so incredibly odd. From Triple H being all too ready and willing to inject shoot comments, to seemingly going a bit rogue, to Cole treating the Elimination Chamber replay as though it’s just taking place at another venue and is not, in fact, a replay from over a week ago. WWE has been incredibly careful to make absolutely no mention of COVID-19  and is just operating under the guise that this is all just by design. It feels eerily sterile and completely lacking in self-awareness.) 

-After the second commercial break during the Chamber match, they returned to Cole and Triple H at the announcers desk to announce that Smackdown is the number one trend worldwide on Twitter. Triple H said it’s a good thing it’s a long match, because Michael Cole “just returned from the Elimination Chamber in the Performance Center.” Cole cracked up. They threw back to the Chamber match.

-At the conclusion of the Chamber match (9:17pm EST), the camera cut back to the ring in the Performance Center. The Miz and John Morrison were clapping. Morrison said if there’s anyone in the back who thinks they aren’t the greatest tag team of the 21st Century, “speak up now.” Miz called himself the greatest ring technician. Morrison and Miz quibbled over who has had the better movie career. They relished in the lack of crowd participation and laughed at their own jokes.

Morrison said they don’t need a catchphrase, because they aren’t there to pander to fans. They started their new “Miz and Morrison” jingle and danced as Miz’s music played.

-Michael Cole teased John Cena’s appearance later in the show. He also said they’d address the rumors of Rob Gronkowski signing with WWE.

-Daniel Bryan’s music hit and he walked to the ring, trailed by Drew Gulak. Bryan started a “yes” chant, but quickly gave up. Gulak continued. Gulak convinced Bryan to pick it back up. Cole sent the show to commercial.

-Back from the break, Triple H had commandeered the camera and was shooting Cole at the announcer’s desk. Triple H jokingly zoomed in on Cole’s face. Cole talked about whether or not Rob Gronkowski plans to sign with WWE. He welcomed Mojo Rawley to the desk. Mojo confirmed the rumors, and added that Gronkowski will be live on Smackdown next week. Triple H and Mojo shoved and shook Cole around in his seat.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Somehow, this just keeps getting weirder.)

-Progressive’s “Match Flo” aired, recapping Sami Zayn’s Intercontinental title win at Elimination Chamber.

(2) DANIEL BRYAN (w/ Drew Gulak) vs. CESARO (w/ Sami Zayn & Shinsuke Nakamura)

Sami Zayn joined Cole and Triple H at the announcers desk. Daniel Bryan and Cesaro locked up. Cesaro gave Bryan a shoulder tackle. Bryan quickly sprung to his feet and fought Cesaro into the corner. He threw some shots, but Cesaro overpowered him and began delivering quick fire uppercuts. He threw Bryan to the ground. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Bryan broke a side hold with a kick to the quad when the show returned from break. The two made their way to the corner, Bryan wound up on the apron, where Cesaro executed a perfect deadlift suplex over the ropes. Bryan retreated to the opposite corner. Cesaro hit a string of running uppercuts.

Bryan flipped out of a third uppercut attempt and caught Cesaro with a running clothesline. Cesaro rose to his knees. Bryan hit the “yes” kicks. He covered for a two count. Bryan charged at Cesaro, but Cesaro shot him into the air and hit a brutal looking uppercut. He immediately locked in a crossface. Bryan rolled through in a small package for a three count.

WINNER: Daniel Bryan in 6:00

Shinsuke Nakamura immediately attacked Daniel Bryan. Drew Gulak rushed the ring to aid Daniel Bryan. Sami Zayn left the commentary table to join in. Cesaro and Nakamura spilled to the outside with Gulak and tossed him into the steel steps. Daniel Bryan dove through the ropes and dropped Nakamura. Bryan went to check on Drew Gulak as Zayn regrouped with Cesaro and Nakamura and left the ringside area.

(LeClair’s Analysis: On a show that feels so incredibly eerie and unplanned, one would think they could’ve let Bryan and Cesaro, two of the best wrestlers in the company, wrestle longer than six minutes. Alas, though, that obviously isn’t the point of tonight. They’re going as lighthearted and “off the cuff” as they possibly can.)

-At the announcers desk, Triple H was redoing Michael Cole’s makeup, saying he looked terrible. He colored in his soul patch with a Sharpie. Cole asked Triple H if they could be serious. He said Jeff Hardy would face King Corbin after the break.

-Michael Cole welcomed Elias to the announcers desk when the show returned from break. King Corbin was already in the ring. Jeff Hardy headed to the ring next.

(3) KING CORBIN vs. JEFF HARDY

Corbin attacked Hardy before the bell rang. He tossed him to the outside and slammed him into the barricade. Cole and Elias argued over whether or not the match had officially begun. The bell rang when Jeff returned to the ring. Corbin threw Hardy into the corner and delivered a pair of shots.

Jeff Hardy battled free and hit a quick jawbreaker, then a clothesline to take Corbin off his feet. He followed up with an atomic drop and a leg drop between the legs. Hardy covered Corbin for a two count. Hardy called out for the Twist of Fate. Corbin blocked it. Hardy and Corbin traded punches. Hardy charged, but Corbin caught him with Deep Six for a near fall.

Corbin began arguing with the referee over the count. He turned his attention to Elias at ringside. Elias left the desk and began strumming his guitar. Corbin, distracted, got hit with a Twist of Fury from Jeff Hardy. Hardy ripped his shirt off, climbed to the top rope and hit the Swanton Bomb for a three count.

WINNER: Jeff Hardy in 3:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Nothing match meant to reintroduce Hardy and continue the budding rivalry between Corbin and Elias. Again, while I think this about the right level for Corbin’s character, I can’t exactly say I’m excited to see he and Elias wrestle in any capacity, especially in an empty arena, which it appears we’ll be seeing for quite some time.)

-After the break, Triple H was shown above the makeshift set, the same place he opened the show. He talked about the fans being there in spirit and the wrestlers continuing to pour their heart and soul into their performance. He closed by saying “Then, now, forever.” The camera panned back to the ring.

John Cena’s music played and Michael Cole welcomed him. Cena flashed his “Never Give Up” towel at the camera. Cena addressed Cole, and said if he has questions, he has answers. Cole turned the focus to Bray Wyatt. He recapped what Wyatt said last week, insinuating that the downfall Bray experienced as a result of losing to Cena is what gave way to The Fiend.

Cena said a lot of people have claimed that he’s responsible for their failure. He said we can now add Bray Wyatt to the list. Cena said the reason Wyatt fell into a downward spiral is because he got lazy and gave up. Cena recounted his own major losses and setbacks, and wondered why no one ever says “John Cena’s been buried.” He said it’s because he overcomes, adapts and gets back in the fight.

Cena said people get lazy, fail to put in the work, and blame everyone but themselves. Cole threw to a clip of Cena’s return to Smackdown two weeks ago, and The Fiend’s subsequent challenge. Cole asked if Cena was attempting to antagonize the Fiend. Cena said he doesn’t believe Wyatt is the future. He listed names like McIntyre, Ciampa, Ripley, and Dream. He said he’s tired of people getting 5th and 6th chances. Cena said his goal is to “take Bray Wyatt out of the equation.” Cena said he’s going to end the existence of the most “over hyped, over valued, over privileged WWE Superstar in existence.”

Bray Wyatt maniacally laughed off camera. He appeared at ringside and climbed in the ring, saying it was great to see John again despite what he’s saying about him. Bray said John has him all wrong, though. “I’m not sick, you are.” Wyatt said he knows why Cena can’t say no. He said John Cena only cares about John Cena. He said it’s all about the spotlight, and Cena craves it like an addict.

Bray said Cena took something from him six years ago. He said he wanted to smash his own skull to stop the voices from speaking to him. “One day, I stopped fighting the voices and I started listening to them.” Bray said the voices turned his crooked world into a majestic funhouse. “The Fiend put me back together.”

Bray said, at WrestleMania, it’s going to be a slaughter. “You just don’t know it yet.” Bray told Cena to let him in. The camera quick cut to clips of The Fiend. His laugh filled the speakers. The show cut to black.

(LeClair’s Analysis: This didn’t work for me. Cena can only play the “bury” card so many times before it starts to feel hokey, especially when he starts talking about his losses in a tongue in cheek way. This isn’t the first time Cena name-checks a bunch of up and coming talent as a way to gain “cred”, only to instead wind up feeling forced. It’s extremely hard to try to inject realism, or a a worked-shoot approach into an angle that involves a character like The Fiend. Cena largely ignored the character and instead focused specifically on Bray Wyatt, which seemed counterproductive to the story they’ve been trying to tell up until this point. Similarly, Bray Wyatt seemed unimposing and, though I thought he tried to make up for some of the damage Cena did, I don’t think it worked. Suddenly, this angle seems incredibly hindered both by direction and the hand they’ve been dealt with empty arenas.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: This was rough, weird, and eerie. I’m not about to condemn WWE for their effort, or suggest I have a better solution for how to conduct these shows, but at this point, if I had a vote as to whether or carry on like this for the foreseeable future, or simply suspend live shows altogether, I’d almost certainly vote for the latter. I realize that’s an incredibly hard decision to make given television rights fees and talent pay and the like, but I can’t imagine these shows are going to do pro wrestling as a whole any favors in the long run. I’m intrigued to see whether or not improvements are made to this format come Monday (once they’ve had a bit more time to prepare), and especially interested to see how AEW pulls off similar presentations later next week.

On a presentation note, Triple H’s commentary was a contributing factor in making this show as strange as it was. He was, at times, jovial, and at others, seemingly uncomfortable. He was too reliant on poking fun at Michael Cole and making off-color, “inside baseball” jokes, even making reference to his own demotion. If you’re at all interested in the dichotomy of WWE’s corporate structure and its recent shake ups, it may be worth your time just to check out his parts on commentary. It was, if nothing else, a fascinating look into his psyche.

1 Comment on LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT 3/12: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of first fan-free event, John Cena & Bray Wyatt, Jeff Hardy Returns, Triple H on commentary, more

  1. All I can say is I respect the effort made and this might be the new norm for awhile but I do not advise doing Wrestle mania in the performance center with no crowd. The definitely need to just postpone it to a later date when stuff is somewhat back to normal.

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