LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT 3/20: Alt perspective, detailed coverage on Reigns & Goldberg contract signing, Rob Gronkowski, Bryan & Gulak vs. Nakamura & Cesaro, more



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LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
MARCH 20, 2020
ORLANDO, FL AT WWE PERFORMANCE CENTER
AIRED LIVE ON FOX NETWORK

Announcers: Michael Cole

-The show opened with the standard Smackdown intro, which gave way to a wide shot of the make-shift Smackdown stage at the Performance Center. Michael Cole ran down the night’s events, including the contract signing between Roman Reigns and Goldberg. He also teased an appearance from Paige, and the Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena match from WrestleMania 30.

The camera showed Cole standing in the center of the ring, maintaining the same camera angle they’ve been using since last week’s Smackdown. Michael Cole shifted to talking about WrestleMania being spread across two nights. He said such an event required a special host. He talked up Rob Gronkowski, then threw to a video package showing the former tight end’s entertainment highlights.

Michael Cole welcomed Mojo Rawley to the ring. Rawley smacked Cole’s butt and told him to get hyped. Rawley introduced Rob Gronkowski, who came to the ring to some generic party music, dancing and thrusting his way into the ring. He shared a handshake with Rawley.

Cole welcomed Gronkowski and asked him if it was a dream to be in WWE. Gronk said he’s been a fan since second grade, sitting in the rafters in Buffalo. He talked about attending FCW events to support Mojo. He said he’s been to WrestleManias in front of 80,000 people, and now he’s going to host one.

Rawley said WWE is much different than football – he needs to watch his back everywhere. Gronkowski gave Rawley some chops. King Corbin’s music hit. Corbin walked onto the stage and to the ring. Corbin said if he takes advice from Mojo he’ll fail. He told Gronk he expects him to bow down. Gronkowski said he doesn’t get on his knees. Corbin called Gronk “just a party boy.” Corbin said he’s played in the NFL and become king in the ring. He told Corbin to fall in line, or he’d make sure the party ends.

Elias strummed his guitar and walked to the ring. Elias said he’s had a song ready for Corbin. Corbin said if he listens, he expects Elias to finally go away. Elias began playing. Gronk and Mojo danced emphatically. Corbin grew impatient and cut Elias off. He got in Gronk’s face. He and Mojo tripped him. Corbin stood up and said he’d hurt Gronk. Elias attacked him from behind and tossed him to the outside.

Gronk said he’s advocating for Elias and King Corbin to face each other at WrestleMania. Cole said he hopes WWE officials “take it into consideration.”

(LeClair’s Analysis: Right out of the gate, it’s apparent that WWE didn’t feel the need to make any changes to their presentation after week one. It’s a shame, given how well AEW made the fan-less format work on Wednesday. Suddenly, it’s WWE who looks like the lesser of the two companies in terms of presentation. At the very least, they could have turned the camera to face the entrance stage.

As far as the segment itself goes, Gronkowski was over the top, though he seemed excited to be there. Mojo has been defined down for too long to be taken seriously, and unless this was a requirement that Gronk had, I think it’s ill-advised to pair the two of them so clearly on television. Additionally, it goes without saying, but Corbin vs. Elias doesn’t really have much business being a WrestleMania match, regardless of circumstances.)

-Backstage, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro were shown walking around. Cole said they’d be in tag team action next.

-Back in the ringside area, Daniel Bryan’s music played and he headed to the ring with Drew Gulak for tag team action They “yes’ed” their way to the ring. Cole said they’d face Nakamura and Cesaro after the break.

Out of the commercial break, they aired footage of last week’s Bryan vs. Cesaro match and how it led to tonight’s tag match. Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura headed to the ring, accompanied by Sami Zayn.

(1) DANIEL BRYAN & DREW GULAK vs. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA & CESARO (w/ Sami Zayn)

Daniel Bryan began the match with Shinsuke Nakamura. They began a feeling out process, throwing phantom kicks and eventually locking up. Sami Zayn hopped onto commentary with Michael Cole. Bryan wrestled Nakamura to the mat and worked over his arm.

Nakamura battled to his feet, then tagged in Cesaro. Bryan tagged Gulak. They worked each other momentarily, then both men tagged out. Nakamura and Bryan traded quick kicks and uppercuts. Cesaro made a blind tag. Bryan tossed Nakamura to the outside, then dove through the ropes onto him on the outside. Cesaro capitalized and caught Bryan with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker as soon as Bryan returned to the ring. Zayn roared in approval. The show went to commercial.

Back from the break, Bryan and Cesaro traded uppercuts. Cesaro backed Bryan into the corner and tagged in Nakamura. Nakamura hit Bryan with the sliding German suplex. Back in the ring, Nakamura grounded Bryan with a snapmare and a diving knee. Shinsuke tagged out Cesaro put Bryan in a waist lock and gave him a gut wrench slam for a two count.

Cesaro shot Bryan into the ropes and hit a pair of running uppercuts. He attempted a third, but Bryan shot out with a dropkick. Both men tagged out. Drew Gulak cut off Nakamura with a series of punches, followed by a bridging German suplex for a two count. Gulak tried to apply a dragon sleeper, but Nakamura rolled through into an arm bar. Gulak rolled through into a cover for a two count. Nakamura tagged in Cesaro.

Cesaro caught Gulak with a lifted uppercut. He covered Drew, but Bryan broke up the count. Cesaro backed Gulak into the corner and delivered a number of uppercuts. Nakamura tagged in and continued the attack with hard knees. Nakamura hit a front facebuster then tagged in Cesaro. Cesaro hit Gulak with an uppercut, then a big boot. Gulak fell into his corner and tagged in Daniel Bryan. Bryan caught Cesaro with a sunset flip roll from the top rope for a quick three count as Gulak blocked Nakamura from saving the pin attempt.

WINNERS: Daniel Bryan & Drew Gulak in 10:00

Bryan and Gulak started a “yes” chant as Sami Zayn complained on commentary. Zayn said Gulak, who wasn’t legal, trapped Cesaro’s arm.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Decent tag team match. These guys all hit relatively hard, so the match was able to come off well enough. Still, it feels like they’re mostly trying to fill time without a ton of direction. I presume this leads to Daniel Bryan facing Sami Zayn at WrestleMania for the Intercontinental title, which should be entertaining, although any expectations must be tampered given the overall atmosphere.)

-At ringside, Michael Cole talked up WrestleMania’s expansion to two nights. He then announced that, for the next two Sundays, WWE will air classic WrestleManias in their entirety on national television. He confirmed that Wrestlemania 30 will air Sunday on ESPN at 7:00pm EST.

-After the break, Bryan and Drew Gulak were shown stretching and celebrating their win. Sami Zayn walked into frame with Nakamura and Cesaro. He said Gulak is teaching Bryan how to squeak by with “mediocre wins.” He asked Bryan when he’d start listening to him instead of a loser like Gulak. Bryan challenged Zayn to an Intercontinental title match at WrestleMania. Zayn told Bryan he’d lost his mind. Zayn said if Drew Gulak can beat Shinsuke Nakamura next week, then he’ll face Bryan at WrestleMania. Bryan agreed.

-The camera cut toe Michael Cole in the ring. He welcomed Paige, who appeared on the big screen via Skype from Los Angeles. Paige was immediately cut off by Bayley’s music. She and Sasha Banks stormed to the ring, telling Cole to leave. “Welcome to our show,” Bayley said.

Paige mocked Bayley’s proclamation of being the best. Bayley mocked Paige’s accent. Paige called Bayley and Paige bullies and said the women who came before them all showed courage, which they lack. Bayley said she’s beaten everyone, “unless you want to do something about it. Oh wait, you can’t.” Paige said Bayley’s right, her passion has been taken away from her. “I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone.”

Paige said it’s WrestleMania season and she can’t wait to see someone take the title from her. Paige said she spoke to Fox, and she’ll be announcing Bayley’s match at WrestleMania. Bayley said she planned to skip WrestleMania and go straight to the Hall of Fame. Paige announced Bayley will defend her title against Lacey Evans and Dana Brooke. Bayley asked if she wants to add Tamina, “if she even works here anymore.” Paige added Tamina. Then she added Naomi. Bayley grew frustrated.

“You bitch,” Sasha took the mic, “how dare you do this to my friend?” Paige said it’s actually going to be a six-pack elimination match, and the final challenger is Sasha. Bayley and Sasha exchanged a look. Bayley left, frustrated. Sasha smiled.

(LeClair’s Analysis: This was a bit of a mess. They teased Paige’s involvement in the show last week and then kind of wrote her off due to travel issues, instead of just doing the Skype segment then. Then, without any logical challengers for Bayley, they set up this random match with characters who have already lost to Bayley multiple times over, or, in the case of Tamina, simply haven’t been on television in months. The Sasha twist is an interesting one, at least, but this feels like adding a match for the sake of adding a match. It also doesn’t help that the way the segment set up made it seem as though Paige may have been cleared to return to the ring, leading to a rather disappointing announcement.)

-Out of the break, Michael Cole set up Progressive Match Flo, which set the scene for the John Cena vs. The Fiend match at WrestleMania. Cole then tossed to the John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt match from WrestleMania 30, shown in its entirety.

After the match, Michael Cole tossed to last week’s Smackdown, recapping the segment between Cena and Wyatt.

-The Miz and John Morrison headed to the ring. Cole said they’d bring back the “controversial” Dirt Sheet after the break.

-After the break, Cole threw to a clip of last week’s tag match between Banks & Bayley and Alexa & Nicky, showing Asuka’s attack on Alexa Bliss.

Backstage, Kayla Braxton welcomed Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross. Nikki said Asuka snuck into Smackdown and attacked her best friend from behind. Bliss consoled Nikki and took the mic. Bliss said she’s played the game Asuka is playing before, but she did it better. She asked Nikki what her schedule is next week. “Open,” Nikki said. “Perfect,” Bliss responded. She challenged Asuka to a match on next week’s show.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Alexa Bliss continues to be one of the most natural promos in the company. She was effective here. I’m not sure how great the match will be, but Alexa is proving herself to be as solid a babyface as she was a heel.)

Back in the ring, Miz and Morrison introduced themselves and did their chant. Miz said they should ask the fans who should challenge them for the tag team titles at WrestleMania. Suddenly, the camera cut to show Miz and Morrison dressed like New Day, tossing pancakes. Morrison wore a unicorn uniform. They submitted New Day’s name. They cut to another area, where Miz and Morrison were now dressed as the Usos, mimicking them. Then, they were shown wearing bacon costumes, apparently pretending to be Tucker & Otis. This went back and forth, Miz and Morrison playing exaggerated versions of each team.

Miz and Morrison said the “ridiculously good looking WWE universe members” can’t decide who the number one contenders should be. Morrison suggested they just take the night off. Miz said it sounded like a great idea. Heavy Machinery’s music hit and they headed to the ring. Cole said if they can earn a victory, they may be in line for a title shot.

(2) THE MIZ & JOHN MORRISON vs. HEAVY MACHINERY (Tucker & Otis)

The match was already in progress when the show returned from break. Otis and The Miz locked up. Miz put Otis in a headlock. Otis quickly tossed Miz aside. Miz tagged in John Morrison. Morrison kicked Otis, but he wasn’t phased. He gyrated himself back to a vertical base, then continued to no-sell Morrison’s kicks.

Morrison tried to whip Otis into the corner, but Otis blocked it. Morrison eventually caught Otis with a kick. He tried for a springboard maneuver, but Otis sidestepped it and scooped Morrison into a suplex position. Tucker tagged himself in, and they traded Morrison off. Tucker finished the suplex for a two count.

Morrison tagged in Miz after rolling over Tucker’s back. Tucker shot Miz into the corner and caught him with a slam in the corner, immediately tagging in Otis. Otis took Miz down and covered him for a two count. He tagged Tucker back in. They hit double clubs to the gut, then sandwiched Miz’s head between their stomachs. John Morrison ran into the ring. Heavy Machinery took them down and delivered a tandem elbow drop and headbutt. Morrison rolled to the outside. Tucker hit both he and Miz with a barrel roll from the apron.

Miz tried to escape. Tucker cut him off. Morrison attacked Tucker, allowing Miz to recover and return to the ring. He dropkicked Tucker, then hit a slingshot into a waiting elbow of Morrison, who tagged himself in. Morrison hit a springboard elbow for a two count. Morrison applied a headlock and drove his elbow into Tucker’s neck. He tagged in Miz. Tucker fought back, knocking Morrison off the apron and dropping Miz. Tucker crawled slowly toward Otis. Dolph Ziggler’s music hit and he walked to the ring. Miz knocked a distracted Otis off the apron. He gave Tucker a DDT for a near fall.

Morrison caught Otis with a super kick on the outside. Dolph Ziggler sat down at the announcers desk with Michael Cole. Cole sent the show to commercial.

After the break, Tucker battled Morrison back to his feet. Morrison caught Tucker with a kick to the side of the head. Cole asked Ziggler why he stole Otis’ potential girlfriend. Otis reversed a double team suplex attempt and tagged in Otis. Otis dropped both Miz and Morrison. He hit Miz with a spinning scoop slam. Otis tossed Morrison into Miz, who was cornered. With both Morrison and Miz down, Otis set up for a double caterpillar. Ziggler interrupted him, telling him he wanted Otis to see some pictures.

Images of Ziggler and Mandy Rose together appeared on the tron. Otis turned to Ziggler and gave chase. Ziggler made it over the barrier, but Otis pulled him back and grabbed a chair. He lifted it over his head, but Miz and Morrison stopped the assault and tossed Otis back in the ring. Otis clotheslined them both back out. Otis tossed Morrison into the ring steps, then slammed Miz’s head repeatedly onto the announcers table.

Morrison leapt off the desk, but Otis caught him and slammed him into the ring post. As Morrison and Miz rose to their feet together, Otis drove them straight through the barricade. Otis grabbed a chair. Tucker tried to talk him out of it, citing the match. Otis fought about it, but eventually hit Miz and Morrison repeatedly. The referee called for the bell.

WINNERS: The Miz & John Morrison in 14:00

Tucker continued to tear apart the ringside area as Ziggler looked on in shock from atop the stage. Tucker gave Otis a hug, telling it it was alright.

(LeClair’s Analysis: A solid, if not standard, tag team match. I’m not really a fan of the “earning a title shot by beating the champions” trope that WWE often falls back on, but I get that they needed to fill TV time and get to the eventual freak out with Otis over Ziggler’s interference. This is an interesting development for the Otis character, and it furthers along an angle that’s been going on for months with very minimal progression over the course of the last few weeks. It seems only natural that this eventually leads to a match between Otis and Ziggler, which should have some decent heat behind it considering how long this has been building.)

-After the break, Cole plugged WrestleMania 30 airing on ESPN on Sunday. He turned to next week’s Smackdown, which will include Alexa Bliss vs. Asuka, a new episode of Firefly Funhouse, and New Day vs. The Usos to determine the number one contenders for the Smackdown tag team titles at WrestleMania.

-In the ring, Michael Cole stood behind WWE’s official contract signing table. He introduced Roman Reigns, then Goldberg.

Goldberg placed the Universal title on the table, facing the hard camera. Cole told them to take their seats. Both men dramatically tossed their chairs over the top rope. Cole told them to relax. He asked Goldberg who he thought would take his challenge. Goldberg said he was hoping it was Roman Reigns, “but I didn’t think he had the balls to come out and face me.”

Cole asked Reigns why he took the challenge. “All the greats have chosen me,” Reigns said, “and they all lost to me, too.” He said Goldberg wouldn’t be any different. Cole brought up a tweet from Reigns where he seemingly took a shot at Goldberg bashing his head against a door. Reigns said all he sees is a “little bitch bulldog” holding a title he never earned. Reigns signed the contract.

“Listen Punk,” Goldberg said, “I’ve been destroying steel doors across the world for years with that headbutt.” He said Reigns would be the next victim. He signed the contract, then tossed the table aside. Goldberg got in Roman’s face. The camera panned in close. You could hear the director counting the show to fade out in the background. After what felt like a lifetime, the show faded to black.

(LeClair’s Analysis: They’re lucky this didn’t take place in front of a live audience. Goldberg came of awkwardly, Reigns continued to deliver lines that seem almost designed to be counterproductive. As quick as this was, it was bad. The awkward stare down, the over-scripted, calculated, simultaneous tossing of the chairs. I’m not sure this could have come off much more poorly, despite being set up as simply as it could have been. This “feud”, if you want to call it that, has been a debacle at best and it’s better for everyone that it’s going to be put in front of an empty warehouse. Reigns is going to have a lot of trouble once they’re in front of live audiences again.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: WWE is doing their best, but their best simply isn’t good enough now that we’ve seen what can be done with these empty arena shows. I’m far from a routine defender of AEW, and while I don’t typically dislike their product, I find that they’re often given passes for some of the same things fans will harp on WWE for. It’s truly a night and day difference between these two company’s presentations, though. AEW’s empty arena presentation is far less awkward, far less sterile, and far easier to digest than WWE’s. It’s hard to return to this format after seeing what can be done with it under a different set of eyes.

Regarding the show’s content, it felt again like they were just treading water trying to get by. Miz and Morrison’s Dirt Sheet segment was cringe-inducing, and the contract signing was, from where I sit, abysmally awkward. The wrestling on this particular show was decent enough, and it looks like we’ll get a couple of decent matches next week as well. If WWE is fully committed to this being the format going forward, it’s going to incredibly hard creating worthwhile content going forward, especially as this extends past several weeks.

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