LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT 3/26: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of New Day vs. Usos, Bliss vs. Asuka, Firefly Funhouse, more

By Brandon LeClair, PWTorch contributor



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

LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
MARCH 26, 2020
ORLANDO, FL AT WWE PERFORMANCE CENTER
AIRED LIVE ON USA NETWORK

Announcers: Michael Cole

-Michael Cole welcome the audience to the Performance Center after Smackdown’s standard introduction. He ran down the night’s lineup, including New Day vs. The Usos, Alexa Bliss vs. Asuka, a new episode of Firefly Funhouse, and a replay of Triple H vs. Roman Reigns from WrestleMania 32.

-Sasha Banks’ music played and she walked onto the stage. Bayley’s music followed. Greg Hamilton introduced the duo as they headed to the ring.Cole teased Bayley’s title match, now a Fatal-5-Way match, sans Dana Brooke.

Bayley said WrestleMania is the biggest night of the year. Sasha said it’s supposed to be a night where dreams come true, but she and Bayley’s night is going to be a nightmare. Bayley asked how it’s fair that she’ll have to defend her title in a 5-way elimination match. Sasha said it isn’t fair. Sasha laughed at the idea that her being in the match would pit the two of them against each other. They blamed Paige for their predicament. Bayley said there’s “no separation” between the two of them. Sasha appeared ready to express doubt, but Lacey Evans’ music cut her off.

Lacey stepped in the ring. She said Bayley’s mouth is as big as her hat. Sasha told Lacey to go preach to someone who cares, like her bratty little kid. Lacey laughed it off. She said it will, in fact, be a nightmare for both of them. She said she’d break Sasha’s jaw with the Women’s Right, and beat some respect into Bayley and take her title. Naomi’s music hit. She walked to the ring.

Naomi said she agrees with Lacey, at least until they’ve rid the match of Bayley and Sasha. She said she’d “snatch the blue wig” right off of Sasha’s head. Sasha was appalled. Bayley said this wasn’t going to be one of those nights where “everyone hits their music and gets to say something.” Tamina’s music hit.

“Actions speak louder than words,” Tamina said. She gave Naomi a headbutt, then dropped Lacey Evans. Sasha and Bayley stood back for a moment, then jumped Naomi together. They walked into Tamina. Tamina stared them down. Sasha and Bayley left the ring together, telling Tamina it was “nice to see her” and that she “looks awesome.”

(LeClair’s Analysis: This wasn’t a good segment. I presume they removed Dana Brooke from the match to keep within the confines of limiting congregations of people. If anyone was to be removed from the match, Tamina made the most sense, given her lack of TV exposure in recent months. Bayley and Sasha are trying their best here, but they’ve been asked to do a lot in the last few weeks with very little to work with in the way of fodder. In general, this has been a trying stretch for everyone on Smackdown, but the women in particular haven’t looked particularly strong.)

-Drew Gulak headed to the ring after the break with Daniel Bryan at his side. Michael Cole noted that Gulak holds Bryan’s WrestleMania fate in his hands. If Gulak defeats Nakamura, Bryan will face Sami Zayn for the Intercontinental title at WrestleMania. Shinsuke Nakamura headed to the ring with Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura at his side.

(1) DREW GULAK (w/ Daniel Bryan) vs. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA (w/ Sami Zayn & Cesaro)

Sami Zayn took a seat next to Michael Cole at the announcers desk. In the ring, Nakamura wrestled Drew Gulak to the ground with a front face lock. He followed up with a knee to the back of the neck. Nakamura lifted Gulak to his feet and shot him into the corner. Gulak exploded out of the corner with a clothesline.

Cesaro pulled Nakamura from the ring to allow him time to regroup. “Nothing illegal about that!” screamed Zayn. Gulak headed to the outside. Nakamura slammed him into the announcers desk and delivered a stiff kick to the midsection. Back on the apron, Gulak caught Nakamura with a dragon screw leg sweep into the middle rope. Gulak began working on Shinsuke’s leg.

Nakamura sidestepped Gulak’s running offense in the corner, hopped onto the second rope and dropped Drew with a knee to the face. He slapped on a front face headlock and wrestled Gulak to his knees. Shinsuke drove his knee into Gulak’s shoulder, then locked in the face lock again. Gulak fought free. Nakamura hit Gulak with a front suplex. He set up for the Kinshasa, but Daniel Bryan pulled Gulak out of the way. Gulak rolled Nakamura into a jackknife cover for a three count.

WINNER: Drew Gulak in 4:00

Sami Zayn protested on commentary. Gulak left the ring quickly and he and Bryan started a “yes” chant. Cole said the match between Bryan and Zayn is now official for WrestleMania. He teased Alexa Bliss vs. Asuka and a new episode of Firefly Funhouse. The show went to commercial.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Decent match, but it never really got a chance to get going. The outcome was rather obvious from the get go, as it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Bryan would face Zayn at WrestleMania. That match has the potential to steal the show if they’re given enough time. Granted, expectations should be tampered all the way around.)

-After the break, Michael Cole narrated a quick recap of Drew Gulak’s victory over Shinsuke Nakamura. He then tossed to a clip from last week’s Smackdown, when Dolph Ziggler showed Otis clips of he and Mandy Rose together.

-Backstage, Ziggler was talking to someone on FaceTime about Otis. Otis and Tucker suddenly burst onto the screen, officials and referees holding Otis back. Ziggler challenged Otis to a match at WrestleMania, with Mandy in his corner. Otis agreed.

-The camera cut to Elias, standing atop a platform above the ringside area. He said he wrote a song called “Kingdom of Fools” for King Corbin. The lyrics included a line about stocking up on toilet paper and stamping Corbin’s face on it. “Your throne’s a toilet, and you are a turd,” Elias sang. Not kidding.

Corbin attacked Elias from behind. Elias stumbled over the railing of the raised platform. Corbin hit him with his scepter. Elias fell straight to the floor using a clever camera cut.

(LeClair’s Analysis: This one of those segments that actually worked better in front of no audience, on tape delay, because they were able to post-produce Elias’ fall. Elias was never actually shown falling the full distance off the pedestal, but rather, the camera cut away, we heard a crash, and then Elias was shown laid out on the floor. It worked for what it was. This isn’t a particularly compelling angle and both of these characters feel pretty ice cold, especially without any fan interaction. But, they’re doing what they can to fill TV time.)

-Back from commercial, Cole said Elias had been taken to a local medical facility and pledged to provide an update on the status of his match with Corbin if he got one.

-Asuka headed to the ring for her match with Alexa Bliss. Cole showed Asuka’s interference in Bliss’ match from two weeks ago.  Alexa Bliss headed to the ring with Nikki Cross. Cross joined Cole on the announcers desk and yelled “social distancing” when she hugged him.

(2) ASUKA vs. ALEXA BLISS (w/ Nikki Cross)

Asuka began screaming at Alexa Bliss. Bliss told her to hold on, then challenged her to charge. Asuka fell for it. Bliss ducked the attack. The two locked up. Bliss delivered some quick elbows, but Asuka no sold them and launched herself off the ropes. Bliss caught her with a dropkick for a two count.

Bliss applied a headlock on Asuka. Asuka broke free and dropped Bliss with a shoulder tackle, then began dancing to mock Nikki Cross. Asuka hopped onto the middle turnbuckle, but Bliss caught her with a stiff slap to the face. Asuka tumbled to the outside. Bliss went for a basement dropkick through the ropes, but Asuka caught her, pulled her to the outside, and slammed her into the ring steps. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Asuka had Bliss in an arm lock out of the break. Cross was in the midst of a “Lexi” chant. She implored Cole to join her. He did. Bliss caught Asuka with a kick to the spine. Cross started slamming the announcers desk for support. Asuka caught Bliss with a kick on the apron. Bliss twisted Asuka’s arm and dropped her on the apron.

Alexa returned to the ring and covered Asuka for a two count. Asuka tried to attack, but Bliss caught her by the arm again. Both women sold their arms well. Bliss tripped Asuka and caught her with a kick on the way down. She followed up with a dropkick to a seated Asuka. Bliss hit her signature double rolling knees, but her arm gave out on the back handspring. Asuka retreated to the outside. Bliss followed her.

The two traded blows, but it led to Bliss dropping Asuka on the apron again. Back in the ring, Bliss set up for a DDT. Asuka slide through and attempted the Asuka lock. Bliss backed Asuka into the corner, rolled through an attempt from Asuka and hit the DDT for a three count.

WINNER: Alexa Bliss in 11:00

Nikki Cross jumped up in celebration, then rushed into the ring to celebrate with Bliss. Cole said Bliss and Cross are “in the driver’s seat” for a future opportunity at the Women’s tag titles.

(LeClair’s Analysis: This was better than it had much business being. Bliss and Asuka both sold their arms quite well throughout the duration of the match, especially Bliss, who tailored her offense around the work Asuka had done to her throughout the match. Both women hit what appeared to be some hard hitting punches, elbows, and slaps. Some of Bliss’ signature offense still looked a bit weak, but for the most part, this felt appropriately snug given the circumstances of working in a quiet building. Cole was very loose with his language about Bliss & Cross’ future title shot, I presume because Kairi Sane may be unavailable at the moment.)

-Backstage, The Usos said it wouldn’t be the road to WrestleMania if they didn’t battle with New Day at least once. They said it didn’t matter if it’s beef or a truce, “the Usos got the juice.” Cole said that match would happen later, and teased a replay of Triple H vs. Roman Reigns from WrestleMania 32 next.

-After the break, Cole talked up Rob Gronkowski hosting WrestleMania. He turned his attention to the now defunct Universal Championship match between Goldberg and Roman Reigns. He introduced the WWE title match between Roman Reigns and Triple H at WrestleMania 32, which aired in its entirety.

(LeClair’s Analysis: It’s curious that they didn’t find a way to edit part of this segment out, given that we now know that Roman Reigns will not, in fact, face Goldberg at WrestleMania. Obviously, this episode of Smackdown was shot before that decision was reached. Still, it’s a bad look to be putting outdated product on TV when the news made the rounds online yesterday. Furthermore, it’s a little baffling that of all the matches available to them to air, they’d go with this one, a strongly panned main event from a show that most don’t view fondly.)

-After the match, Michael Cole tossed to Triple H backstage to ask him about his feelings about the Goldberg vs. Roman Reigns match, having faced both men. Triple H said both guys bring an incredible amount of intensity to the ring. Triple H said Reigns has an intensity that builds over the course of match, whereas Goldberg’s intensity comes all at once, but it’s brief. H said Reigns gets stronger as the match goes on. “If the match goes quick, it’s all Goldberg, but if Reigns can withstand the initial onslaught from Goldberg, he will build until Goldberg runs out of gas.”

(LeClair’s Analysis: Triple H did a better job selling this match than both Reigns and Goldberg have to this point. Doesn’t really matter at this point, though.)

-Backstage, New Day said tonight is a very special night, because they get a chance to face their boys, The Usos, for a chance to compete at WrestleMania. Big E said it’s going to pain him for New Day to give The Usos this kind of beating, but they need to do it to become eight time tag team champions.

-Cole said a new episode of Firefly Funhouse would be up after the break.

-Out of the break, Dolph Ziggler was talking with Sonya Deville backstage. Mandy Rose walked on screen and asked Sonya for a moment alone with Dolph. She asked if Ziggler really needed to show Otis all those pictures last week. Dolph said he went too far and apologized. Mandy said she refuses to be in the middle. Ziggler said he’d end this at WrestleMania.

-The Firefly Funhouse title card appeared. It cut to Bray Wyatt staring at a picture of John Cena on his wall. He began to hear voices coming from his head lantern. Bray told the head that he had his chance and failed. “He won’t,” Bray said. Abby, the doll, said Bray is delusional, both then and now.

Bray cut to his “secret formula” for beating John Cena. A shake concocted of rage and resentment, and self-loathing. Ramblin’ Rabbit appeared, offering a carrot to add to the formula. Bray grabbed the rabbit and said the missing ingredient was unnecessary opinions. He threw the rabbit in the blender and mixed the puppet with the powders. He drank the concoction over an 80’s style infomercial music track.

Bray said John Cena deserves something more than just a normal match. Bray said “he” wants to official challenge Cena to a Firefly Funhouse match at WrestleMania. Bray continued to drink his shake. “It tastes great, but there is one nasty side effect…” Bray trailed off. The Fiend’s face filled the screen. “Let me in.” The segment cut to black.

(LeClair’s Analysis: I have no idea what a Firefly Funhouse match is, but it feels like WWE feels the need to add a lot of bells and whistles to these matches to break up the monotony of simple matches in an empty arena. They’ve been skittish about presenting any kind of lengthy matches on TV since moving into this format, so I imagine there’s some level of concern about WrestleMania as well. This segment was fine, and had a couple of hints of the old, bombastically scatter-brained style of Firefly Funhouse, but this character is still trying to climb out of the whole it landed in following the loss to Goldberg, and deal with the uphill climb of being a supernatural character in this make-shift style of presentation.)

-Back in the Performance Center, The Miz and John Morrison headed to the ring to join Michael Cole on commentary for the number one contenders match between New Day and The Usos.

-After the break, Cole teased John Cena appearing on next week’s Smackdown to address Bray Wyatt’s challenge to a “Firefly Funhouse” match at WrestleMania.

-New Day headed to the ring following Big E’s vocal introduction. Kofi still carried a plate of pancakes, which he still insisted on tossing into the crowd. He threw a couple of Miz and Morrison. Morrison laughed. The Usos headed to the ring as Miz and Morrison called themselves “Turtleneck Tough Guys.”

(3) THE NEW DAY (Kofi Kingston & Big E) vs. THE USOS (Jimmy & Jey) – Winners challenge for the Smackdown Tag Team titles at WrestleMania

Kofi Kingston began the match with Jimmy Uso. The paced the ring, then locked up. Jimmy took Kofi down and applied a side headlock. They wrestled to their feet. Jimmy dropped Kofi with a shoulder tackle. Back on their feet, Kingston tried for a leaping butt bump but Jimmy caught him by the waste.

Jimmy tried to slingshot Kofi into the corner, but Kofi leaped on the turnbuckle and caught Jimmy with a dropkick. Jimmy rolled to the outside with Jey to regroup. They wound up arguing with Miz and Morrison. Jimmy slid back in the ring and tagged in Jey. Kofi tagged in Big E.

Big E and Jey Uso locked up. E broke up a waist lock and gave Jey a hip toss. They locked up again. After a quick exchange, Jey caught Big E with an uppercut. Big E followed up with a takedown. He tagged in Kofi. Big E scooped Kofi and slammed him onto Jey for a two count. Jimmy made a blind tag in. He and Jey gave Kofi a guillotine off the top rope. They worked over Kofi in the corner and traded tags back and forth.

Kofi ducked an enziguri and made a leaping tag into Big E. Big E hit Jimmy with a belly to belly suplex. Jimmy rolled onto the apron. Big E gave him a series of chops to the chest, then hit a splash from the apron. Cole sent the show to commercial.

The Usos dropped Big E with a double team spine buster when the show returned from break. Miz said The Usos have been doing an excellent job of utilizing quick tags during the break to isolate Big E. Jey ran full force into Big E, who was seated in the corner. He tagged in Jimmy. Jimmy tried to follow up, but Big E caught him and dropped him with an Uranage. Jimmy reached Jey for a tag. Big E tagged in Kofi.

Kofi caught Jey with a hurricanrana from the top rope. He went for leaping double knees, but Jey dropped him and locked in a half crab. Kofi battled out, then hit Jey with the SOS for a near fall. Back on their feet, Kofi tagged in Big E. E set up Jey for Afternoon Delight. Jey rolled under it. Jimmy hit the ring and caught Big E with a super kick. Jey followed up with one of his own. Jey covered E for a near fall.

Jey tagged Jimmy. They cornered Big E and lifted him to the top rope. Big E knocked both Usos off the ropes, but Jimmy caught him with a step up enziguri. Big E fell to the outside. Kofi dumped The Usos over the top rope to the floor, then landed a trust fall over the top rope. Miz and Morrison climbed on top of the announcers desk to mock the teams. Kofi took down Morrison. Miz got in Kofi’s face. The Usos dove onto Kofi and Miz. Big E speared Jey Uso through the second rope. All six men were down at ringside.

WINNERS: No contest in 14:00

Miz and Morrison recovered and attacked all four men in the match.  The beatdown continued in the ring. Cole eventually interrupted them, saying he’d received word from WWE officials that Miz and Morrison would now have to defend the tag titles against New Day and The Usos in a triple threat ladder match.

The Usos recovered and gave Miz double super kicks. New Day hit Morrison with the Midnight Hour. The show faded to black.

(LeClair’s Analysis: The match was solid, as New Day vs. Usos matches pretty much always are. It felt a little cheap to go with a no contest finish, though ultimately I think we’ll wind up with a better match at WrestleMania. This again plays into the idea that they’re concerned with the optics of a bunch of standard wrestling matches at WrestleMania in front of no audience, leading them to book several gimmick stipulations, at least one of which we’ve never even seen before. These are talented teams with great workers who should be able to put on a good ladder match, even under less than ideal circumstances.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: This was a baffling show. All told, over a quarter of the night was dedicated to building hype around a match that isn’t even going to happen. I understand that these matches were taped in advance, but given that the majority of that time was spent showing an old match from WrestleMania, it doesn’t seem like it would have been terribly hard to pivot to something different. This is just one of many signs that WWE is sort of flying by the seat of their pants here. I’ve expressed before, and will continue to express my wish that they’d just postpone WrestleMania altogether, though we’re obviously past that point. The show will go on as is, for better or for worse. I know WWE is proud to continue to present “live” television during this crisis, but these shows are barely passing the minimum threshold I think WWE should require of their presentation and overall product. I have to wonder if their strategy may change once they get through WrestleMania next week.

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