SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Set Up – MISS: I gave WWE the benefit of the doubt for the first few episodes filmed without an audience. But after watching AEW Dynamite two night before Smackdown, I can see how much better WWE could be doing with their set up for these empty arena shows. They need to make some aesthetic changes to make the shows more enjoyable to watch. It wouldn’t take much to turn the hard camera to face the stage and big screen to de-emphasize the empty chairs. They can change the lighting to put more emphasis on the ring and less on those chairs. If they don’t want to have a small group of trainees or other wrestlers safely spread out around the room to give some noise and ambiance, I can understand that. But, at least make some changes to the presentation. They’ve stollen ideas from other wrestling companies tons of times over the years, so why not now?
Gronk – MISS: I find everything that Rob Gronkowski does to be annoying. I am not looking forward to seeing him as the host of WrestleMania. I get that he is real life friends with Mojo Rawley, but having this perpetual loser introducing Gronk makes Gronk look like a loser. I would have kept them away from each other. I guess associating with such a big star can help elevate Rawley, but I wouldn’t be trying to elevate Rawley in the first place. I would rather see two three hour shows for WrestleMania than one six hour show. But, when you start adding things like Elias vs. Baron Corbin, I’m worried that it will end up being two four hour shows instead. I wouldn’t want to see that match in any circumstances and it certainly screams “not WrestleMania worthy!”
Bryan & Gulak vs. Cesaro & Nakamura – HIT: These are four good wrestlers who have plenty of experience outside of the WWE bubble, so I trust them more than products of the Performance Center to handle empty arena matches. This was a good 10 minute tag match. We aren’t seeing as much in ring work during these shows so far, so seeing a decent length good match like this was nice. It set up the match for next week between Drew Gulak and Shinsuke Nakamura where Gulak can earn Daniel Bryan an Intercontinental Championship match against Sami Zayn for WM which certainly would have potential to steal the show.
Women’s Title Match Announcement – MISS: The performances from Bayley, Sasha Banks and Paige were all fine here. My issue was the end result which was Paige announcing that Bayley will defend her Women’s Championship at WM in a six pack challenge. I always get disappointed when WM turns into a participation award. It should be for the very best in the company, not just to get everyone on. They haven’t mentioned a battle royal yet, so I guess they won’t have them this year which makes sense. So to make up for that, they are giving several women who would have been in the battle royal a match here. Titles should mean something, and when a wrestler like Tamina who hasn’t been on in months can get a Title shot, or Dana Brooke who seldom wins matches, it takes away the importance of the Title. The big reveal was Banks as the sixth opponent which worked well, but it still doesn’t get me excited for the match.
Cena vs. Wyatt – MISS: It does make sense to show this match between John Cena and Bray Wyatt from WM 6 years ago as they are telling the story that this loss to Cena was what caused Wyatt to create The Fiend alter-ego. If you are going to do replays like this to help fill out time, it was probably a smart one to pick. There are two problems with it though. The first is that it wasn’t a good match. I thought it was a bad match at the time. I had zero interest in seeing it again. The bigger issue is that I don’t buy the story that they are telling. Wyatt went on to have a ton of success after this match before becoming the Fiend. He won the WWE Championship after this point. Remember when he lost that Title to Randy Orton at WM? I was reminded that this match was so long ago that it doesn’t make sense as the spark that created the Fiend.
The Dirt Sheet – HIT: This is a minor Hit. I did get a kick out of Miz & Morrison’s imitation of The New Day. That was pretty funny with John Morrison dressed up as a unicorn. They also did a pretty good imitation of The Usos. The segment certainly went downhill when they were dressed as bacon to imitate Heavy Machinery. That was so lame. The segment dragged on too long, so it was far from great. But, I got at least enough amusement from it on a show devoid of much entertainment to give it a minor Hit.
Miz & Morrison vs. Heavy Machinery – MISS: This is a minor Miss as it wasn’t too bad, but it suffered from going on too long. There is no way this match should have lasted 15 minutes. It also suffered from the lack of a crowd. You see how limited Heavy Machinery is when they aren’t getting that crowd response due to Otis’ charisma. Dolph Ziggler on guest commentary for half the match didn’t help much. The distractions didn’t help much either.
Contract Signing – MISS: Roman Reigns and Goldberg were intense in this face off with the contract signing for their Universal Title match at WM. That was good. But, they didn’t have anything interesting to say. Why bring up the headbutt? Those kind of behind-the-scenes bits aren’t needed. It makes your Universal Champion look like a chump. Before they even got to talk, they were tossing chairs out of the ring which felt like too much anger towards each other for a feud that hasn’t had anything to be angry over. Why are they mad at each other? Goldberg’s line about hoping Reigns would step up to answer the question “who’s next?” but didn’t think he had the balls was good. But, by going to the headbutt stuff after that it went downhill and never got back on track.
Jon Mezzera is PWTorch.com’s WWE Hits & Misses Specialist, providing his point of view for Raw and Smackdown each week. Email him at email@example.com. Follow Jon on Twitter @JonMezzera.