LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT 5/22: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of Charlotte vs. Bayley, Intercontinental title tournament, Otis & Mandy vs. Dolph & Sonya, more

By Brandon LeClair, PWTorch contributor



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

LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
MAY 22, 2020
ORLANDO, FL AT WWE PERFORMANCE CENTER
AIRED LIVE ON FOX NETWORK

Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves

-The show opened with a commemorative Memorial Day video package.

-Michael Cole welcomed the audience to the Performance Center following the standard Smackdown opening package. He and Corey Graves teased Charlotte Flair vs. Bayley and Dolph Ziggler & Sonya Deville vs. Otis & Mandy Rose.

-John Morrison and The Miz were already positioned in the ring for the Dirt Sheet. They joked about Otis winning Money in the Bank, and Miz said people like Braun Strowman are enabling Otis. Miz said Braun getting in their business doesn’t make sense. Morrison said, “just like Becky Lynch choosing to have a baby with Seth Rollins.” Miz acted shocked. Morrison doubled down.

Miz said Braun Strowman doesn’t deserve to be Universal Champion, considering he was kicked out of the Wyatt Family in favor of puppets. He and Morrison ran down a list of rejected puppets for the Firefly Funhouse, including two farting socks and a Mannequin Mandy Rose.

Strowman eventually interrupted, strolling to the ring with a smile on his face. Strowman hollered and made Miz and Morrison jump across the ring. He said Miz and Morrison are kind of funny. “Your show isn’t half bad, so thanks for having me on.” Morrison and Miz confirmed that he wasn’t, in fact, booked.

Braun told Miz and Morrison to ask him about Bray Wyatt and Money in the Bank. Miz told Strowman that Bray isn’t done with him. He said Wyatt send him spiraling to the lowest point of his life, and Morrison saved him. Morrison said Braun isn’t half the man Miz is, and volunteered Miz to face Strowman. Miz tried to back him off. Strowman quickly accepted the challenge and asked for a referee. Cole sent the show to commercial.

(LeClair’s Analysis: The Dirt Sheet doesn’t really play like a heel talk show segment with any bite. Miz and Morrison have chemistry and their jokes aren’t terribly funny, but they’re a little funny by WWE standards. They’re bordering on parody and it’s growing harder to take them seriously by the week. I thought these two were going to be a credible force and anchor in the tag division, but instead they’ve become shoe-in opponents for any random babyface that needs a match in a given week. They’re being overexposed on the microphone and undervalued in terms of their ability to elevate a division.)

(1) BRAUN STROWMAN vs. THE MIZ

The bell rang as soon as the show returned from break. The Miz danced around the ring briefly, then caught Strowman with a punch. Strowman brushed it off and tossed Miz from corner to corner. Miz crawled desperately toward the ropes, but Strowman scooped him up and gave him a big shoulder tackle.

Strowman drove Miz’s head into his knee, then charged at Miz. Miz pulled down the top rope and sent Strowman crashing to the outside. Miz caught him with a quick kick and distracted the referee long enough for Morrison to hit Strowman with a big leaping kick. Strowman wandered to his feet and Miz tossed him into the ring post.

Strowman wandered into the ring. Miz hit him with a double axe handle from the top rope. He went for a second, but Strowman caught him. Miz fought free and gave Strowman a basement dropkick, followed by a kick to the head. Miz went for a DDT, but Strowman drove him into the corner and then tossed him across the ring.

John Morrison hopped onto the apron, but Strowman shoved him to the floor. He scooped Miz up and hit the Powerslam for a three count.

WINNER: Braun Strowman in 4:00

John Morrison grabbed the microphone and challenged Braun Strowman to a 2-on-1 handicap match for the Universal title at Backlash. Strowman quickly accepted.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Not much of anything here. Miz and Morrison continue to be fodder for needy babyfaces. Miz’s brief offensive flurry looked good and Braun sold it well. Strowman needs these kinds of wins, I suppose. I’m not sure what the thought process is behind a handicap match at Backlash. They already have a mid-card challenger for the WWE title on Raw, and now they’ll be adding a novelty match for the Universal title. No one is going to believe Miz and Morrison have a chance. This just seems like buying time until the inevitable match with The Fiend.)

-A.J. Styles headed to the ring for his Intercontinental title tournament match. A post-produced audio insert from Michael Cole confirmed that Styles was officially traded to Smackdown in exchange for “Superstars to be determined at a later date.” Cole and Graves said Styles would face Shinsuke Nakamura after the break.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Okay. Didn’t expect that. This appears to have been a last minute decision, because Cole’s line about Styles being traded was post-produced and added in the studio, not said on the live-to-tape commentary. I had assumed A.J. was coming over as part of the new brand-to-brand invitational, but I think they’re right to inject some high end talent into Smackdown. He’s back to his old gear and it appears he’s going to be a babyface right out of the gate.)

Shinsuke Nakamura headed to the ring after the break as Cole and Graves talked up Styles’ accolades.

(2) A.J. STYLES vs. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA – Intercontinental title first round match

A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura locked up as soon as the bell rang. Styles backed Nakamura into the corner, but their lock up was broken up quickly. Styles slapped on a side headlock in the center of the ring. Nakamura fought out of it and took control, wrestling Styles into a waist lock.

Styles and Nakamura traded quick transitions again. Styles applied another side headlock and worked Nakamura to the mat. Shinsuke broke the hold, but caught Nakamura with a double chop to the throat. Styles followed up with a dropkick. A.J. sent Shinsuke to the corner and hit him with a chop. Shinsuke fought back with an elbow to the face, then a knee to the gut.

Styles bought time by tripping Nakamura face first into the turnbuckle. Shinsuke recovered quickly and hit a number of right hands. Styles fought back with an enziguri. Nakamura tired A.J. up in the ropes and hit his sliding snap German suplex. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Nakamura caught Styles with a series of kicks when the show returned from commercial. Styles rebounded with a number of shots and then a Pale kick. Both men struggled to their feet. Styles caught Nakamura with a pair of clotheslines, a spinning back elbow, and a spinning clothesline. He hit Nakamura with an Ushigoroshi for a near fall.

Nakamura went for a kick, but A.J. rolled through into a calf crusher. Nakamura eventually reached the ropes to break the hold. Styles tried to continue to work over the leg, but Shinsuke caught him with a kick to the face. Nakamura went for a sliding knee, but A.J. ducked and hit a diving forearm.

Both men returned to their feet. Nakamura hit Styles with a driver, then set up for the reverse exploder. Styles fought free, but Nakamura caught him with a flying knee from the second rope anyway. Nakamura set up for the Kinshasa, but wound up hitting a sliding knee for a two count. He called Styles to his feet again. Styles countered into a roll-up for a two count. Nakamura transitioned into a triangle. Styles started to fade, but pulled himself to his feet and countered into a Styles Clash for a near fall.

Both men used the ropes to stand. Nakamura launched Styles onto the apron, but Styles caught him with a shot. He went for the Phenomenal Forearm, but Shinsuke blocked it. He went for a Kinshasa from the apron. A.J. caught him with a kick of his own, then hit the Phenomenal Forearm for a three count.

WINNER: A.J. Styles in 14:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Good match. This felt about on-par with their previous encounters, maybe even a little better than a couple of them had there been a crowd. I like the permanent addition of A.J. Styles to Smackdown, a show in desperate need of some star power. I wouldn’t mind seeing him come out on top of this tournament, or at least head to the finals with someone like Daniel Bryan.)

-At ringside, Michael Cole and Corey Graves talked about the new brand-to-brand invitational, and how Charlotte was Smackdown’s first guest last week. They threw to a clip of her segment with Bayley.

-Backstage, Sasha hyped up Bayley for her match. Bayley told Sasha she doesn’t want her in her corner tonight. Bayley said she doesn’t want to give the “dumb sheep” anything to talk about. Sasha reluctantly agreed. Bayley took off as Sasha looked on, unsure.

-Out of the break, Cole and Graves talked up the “Greatest Wrestling Match Ever” between Edge and Randy Orton at Backlash. Cue the eye rolls.

-Charlotte Flair headed to the ring for the champion vs. champion match against Bayley. Cole and Graves discussed her accolades. Bayley headed to the ring, sans Sasha Banks.

(3) CHARLOTTE FLAIR vs. BAYLEY

Charlotte Flair and Bayley circled the ring and then locked up. Charlotte quickly took control and tossed Bayley in the corner, talking trash. Bayley caught Charlotte by the hair and dropped her to the mat, covering her for a quick one count. Bayley taunted Charlotte. Backstage, Sasha Banks watched the mach on a screen.

The two women locked up again. Bayley broke free from a standing waist lock and applied one of her own, then rolled Charlotte up with her feet on the ropes. The referee immediately broke the count. Flair rolled Bayley up and tried the same thing. Both women returned to their feet. Charlotte caught Bayley with a kick, then a knee to the chest, sending Bayley to the outside. Bayley grabbed Charlotte by the leg and tripped her onto the edge of the ring.

On the outside, Charlotte tossed Bayley over the barricade. Flair stole Cole’s headset and called out Sasha Banks. She returned to the ring to break the count as Graves sent the show to commercial.

Flair had Bayley grounded in a headlock when the show returned from commercial. Cole said Charlotte dominated during the break. They showed Sasha Banks watching backstage again. In the ring, Charlotte dropped Bayley with a big chop off of an Irish whip to the corner.

Charlotte set up for a moonsault, but Bayley ripped her off the top rope. Charlotte clutched at her knee. Bayley charged, but Charlotte caught her with a big knee. She went for a big boot, but Bayley side stepped her and Charlotte fell to the outside. Flair tried to drag Bayley, but Bayley kicked her into the ring post.

Bayley drove Charlotte into the barricade, and then against the LED board on the ring. She tossed Flair back in the ring and covered her for a count of one. Charlotte caught Bayley with an elbow, then rolled her up for a two count. Bayley dropped Charlotte and put her in a chin lock. Flair fought free with shots to the stomach. Flair hit a fallaway slam. Both women played dormant in the ring.

Charlotte delivered a hard right as the second hour of the show began. Bayley battled Flair into the corner, but Flair fought free and bounced Bayley’s head off the middle turnbuckle. She climbed to the top and went for a moonsault, but Bayley moved. Charlotte landed on her feet and immediately caught Bayley with a big boot for a two count.

Flair worked over Bayley’s legs. Bayley countered with a guillotine off the middle rope. She dragged Charlotte to the corner and hit a running knee. Bayley climbed to the top rope and went for a flying elbow, but Charlotte got her knees up. She rolled Bayley into a Boston crab, but Bayley fought free.

Bayley took Charlotte down and headed to the top rope again, connecting with the elbow this time. She covered Charlotte for a near fall. Charlotte rose to her knees and called for Bayley to “beat” her. Bayley delivered incessant chops, then tried to lock in a Figure Four. Charlotte punched her in the face, then drove her into the corner and delivered chops of her own.

Charlotte rolled up Bayley, but she rolled through it into a cover of her own. Bayley grabbed the ropes and scored a three count.

WINNER: Bayley in 15:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Decent match. I’ve seen these two wrestle enough to not really want to see it again, but this was good enough for what it was. They were lucky to have no crowd for this one, given that both women fully leaned into their heel personas. There was certainly no one to cheer for. Flair had a weird moment of stealing Cole’s headset to call out Sasha Banks, even though she could be heard perfectly in the ring without any sort of microphone. I get that they want to keep things similar to the way they’d be under normal circumstances, but this kind of stuck out as comical for the wrong reasons. Charlotte is being overexposed here, appearing on all three shows weekly, but I’m glad they gave Bayley the win on her home brand.)

-Out of the break, Bayley was backstage celebrating with Sasha Banks. Bayley wondered aloud whether Sasha thought she could actually do it. Sasha gave her a look, and Bayley said she was kidding.

-Sonya Deville and Dolph Ziggler headed to the ring, followed by Otis and Mandy Rose. Cole and Graves talked about the long-running rivalry involving the four parties.

(4) DOLPH ZIGGLER & SONYA DEVILLE vs. OTIS & MANDY ROSE

Mandy Rose began the match with Sonya Deville. Sonya decided to tag out to Dolph, necessitating Otis to enter the match. Otis gyrated. Ziggler tried to pick the leg, but Otis gave him a spinning scoop slam, then a big splash out of the corner. Ziggler rolled to the corner to get Otis away from him, then tagged in Sonya Deville.

Mandy entered the ring and Deville immediately attacked, driving her into the corner and delivering a pair of shots to the mid-section. Mandy shot out of the corner with a press and fired some punches of her own. On the outside, Ziggler ripped Otis off the apron and drove him into the ring steps. Mandy rushed to the outside to check on him. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Sonya had Mandy in a grounded clutch out of the break. She let go and began kicking at Mandy. Deville tossed Rose into the corner and delivered fists and elbows. Mandy fought out of the corner and rolled Sonya up for a one count. Otis returned to the apron. Deville cut Mandy off from making a tag.

Mandy finally hit a jawbreaker to create space, but Deville bounced back with a kick to the chest, then another to the arm. Deville talked trash to Otis, allowing Mandy to recover and hit a running knee. Deville tried to cut Mandy off, but Rose kicked her away and tagged in Otis.

Otis quickly pancaked Ziggler, then gave him a big splash in the corner. Ziggler fought back with an elbow, but Otis ran through it and hit another splash, then set up for the Caterpillar. Ziggler retreated to the corner and tagged in Sonya. Mandy shot in the ring and took Deville down with a running clothesline. She followed up with a hair toss and a running knee into the corner, then a sliding kick for a near fall. On the outside, Ziggler and Otis battled up the ramp.

In the ring, Sonya Deville caught Mandy Rose with a running knee for a three count.

WINNERS: Dolph Ziggler & Sonya Deville in 9:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: The work between Rose and Deville was pretty sloppy. I’m still waiting for these two to “click” and have a good showing together, but it just hasn’t happened to date. Ziggler and Otis work well together and play off one another nicely. I’m not sure of the benefit to giving them the win here, given how strongly Otis has been put over as of late. Cole even mentioned that it “quelled” the momentum Otis has built.)

-Backstage, Jeff Hardy recounted what he said when he returned two weeks ago. He said he didn’t know where his new path would lead, but now it’s clear – the Intercontinental title. Jeff said it’s the first title he won on his own, and he’d like to win it one more time to come full circle. He said he’s going to start that journey by beating the bully who tried to tear him down. “My blaze of glory runs right through you,” Jeff said.

-A memorial placard for Shad Gaspard was shown.

-Another “Viewer Discretion is Advised” promo aired for the Forgotten Sons. Steve Cutler said he and his brothers have had a hard time adjusting to life back home after serving. “That’s our blood on your hands,” Cutler said. “What’s only fair is your blood on ours.”

-Cole and Graves threw to Progressive’s Match Flo, covering the opening show of the segment and match between Braun Strowman and The Miz. They talked up the 2-on-1 handicap match for the Universal title at Backlash, now official.

-Backstage, Miz and Morrison argued about the happenings earlier in the night. Renee Young approached them, asking about their challenge for the Universal title. They said Strowman has an abysmal record in handicap matches, and they’re an effective unit. They launched into their jingle, which Renee Young participated in reluctantly.

-Back at the announcers desk, Cole and Graves threw to a video package hyping the upcoming Sheamus vs. Jeff Hardy match.

-Jeff Hardy headed to the ring. Cole said that Jeff has asked fans to stick by him for one more run. Graves talked about Jeff’s chances in the Intercontinental title tournament. Cole sent the show to commercial.

-Following an extended preview for the Edge vs. Randy Orton match at Backlash, Sheamus headed to the ring. Cole and Graves talked about the fact that, despite all of Sheamus’ accolades, he’s never held the Intercontinental title.

(5) JEFF HARDY vs. SHEAMUS – Intercontinental title tournament first round match

Sheamus backed Jeff Hardy into the corner as soon as the bell rang. Hardy ducked a clothesline and applied a side headlock, then wrestled Sheamus to the mat. Sheamus turned it into a wrist lock, then shot Hardy off the ropes. Sheamus delivered a knee to the gut, then punched Hardy to the mat.

Sheamus hit Hardy with an uppercut, but Hardy knocked Sheamus into the ropes. Sheamus bounced back with a big running elbow. He set Jeff up on the apron for the Ten Beats of the Bodhran. Hardy broke free and lifted Sheamus over the top rope to the floor.

Hardy leaped into Sheamus’ arms on the outside. Sheamus drove him into the ring post, then tossed him on top of the announcers table. Sheamus got in Michael Cole’s face, chastising him for “putting that lump of crap over” for weeks. The show went to commercial.

Sheamus had Hardy in a wrenching head lock out of the break. Hardy was struggling to remain vertical. He punched free, but Sheamus dropped Jeff by his hair, then drove his knee into Hardy’s neck repeatedly. Sheamus hit Hardy with a short arm clothesline. Cole and Graves talked about Jeff being “off.”

Sheamus told Jeff he should have stayed home. Hardy hit some punches and caught Sheamus with a weak enziguri. Hardy shot to the top rope and hit Whisper in the Wind, then covered Sheamus for a one count. Sheamus hit Jeff with the Irish Curse backbreaker, but held on, hitting a second and a third. Hardy collapsed to the mat. Sheamus leaned on the ropes and told Cole and Graves that it’s a great workout.

Sheamus dumped Hardy onto the apron and connected with the Ten Beats of the Bodhran. Sheamus jogged in place. “Best shape of my life!” he declared to Corey Graves. Jeff Hardy recovered and side stepped Sheamus, sending him crashing into the ring post. Hardy hit a running forearm, then an atomic drop. He followed up with the leg drop between the legs and basement drop kick for a two count.

Hardy set up for the Twist of Fate, but Sheamus shoved him off and retreated to the outside. Hardy followed him out and drove him into the ring post. Jeff leaped onto the barricade and hit a flying clothesline, then returned Sheamus to the ring. Hardy climbed to the top rope for a Swanton Bomb. Sheamus got his knees up and covered Hardy for a two count.

Sheamus caught Hardy with a hard running knee for a near fall. Sheamus went for the Brogue kick, but Hardy slid underneath it and rolled Sheamus up for a surprise three count.

WINNER: Jeff Hardy in 14:00

Jeff escaped up the ramp as Sheamus screamed in the ring. Cole and Graves talked over an updated tournament graphic and the show cut off abruptly.

(LeClair’s Analysis: The last few minutes of this one was okay, but for the majority of it, Hardy looked old, slow, and incredibly tired. I’m not sure if that was by design, or if he was genuinely struggling, given the story they’ve been attempting to tell. Sheamus was entertaining in a more fully-fleshed out match against a credible opponent, but the finish was pretty easy to surmise once you saw how dominant Sheamus was throughout. I don’t mind the idea of moving Jeff on in the tournament, though I do think Sheamus would’ve been a fine choice as well. I suspect Sheamus will get his win back against Hardy later.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: Smackdown continues to struggle from a lack of star power and a lack of crowds. This is far from ideal for any company operating under these circumstances, but it’s clear that it can be done better, and WWE simply isn’t making the effort to do so. These shows are passable, and if you love wrestling, they’re enough to get you by, but I stand by my belief that these are hard to watch, and getting progressively more challenging by the week. In general, I think the Intercontinental title tournament has been helpful, but it isn’t strong enough to carry the show. The addition of A.J. Styles should help the general outlook going forward. I dislike the use of The Miz and John Morrison, especially being thrust into a Universal title match at Backlash. As I mentioned prior, pairing that with an already under-par WWE title match sets the show up to be a true afterthought event. I continue to be underwhelmed by the handling of the women on Smackdown, and dislike the overexposure of Charlotte Flair. Much of this show just felt phoned in, with easily detectable post-produced piped in commentary from Michael Cole.

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