LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT 5/29: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of Intercontinental title tournament, major Jeff Hardy angle, more

By Brandon LeClair, PWTorch contributor



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

LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
MAY 29, 2020
ORLANDO, FL AT WWE PERFORMANCE CENTER
AIRED LIVE ON FOX NETWORK

Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves

-The show opened cold on a camera approaching Renee Young on the scene of an accident just outside the Performance Center. Elias was down on the sidewalk, on a stretcher. The police were looking over a damaged car involved in the accident. The police began asking for Jeff Hardy, saying the car was rented in his name.

-Nearby, Kayla Braxton asked Braun Strowman if he’d seen anything. He said he was just arriving to work and happened upon the scene.

The camera cut abruptly to show police running around a corner with referees and agents in tow. They happened upon Jeff Hardy in the bushes. The cops began saying he smelled like alcohol, just like the bottles found in the car. They cuffed Hardy and dragged him out of the parking lot. Jamie Noble and Jason Jordan walked alongside him. Hardy was placed in a cop car, distraught.

Referees surrounded the ambulance containing Elias as Renee Young wrapped up the scene, saying they’d bring additional news as it develops. Camera crews filmed as the ambulance drove away, then focused on the damaged Toyota Camry, apparently following to Jeff Hardy. The show cut to commercial.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Interesting start to the show. It seems unlikely that this is setting up any way other than revealing Sheamus and/or King Corbin to be involved. WWE and Jeff Hardy must be mighty confident of Jeff’s sobriety to want to participate in an angle like this. I’m intrigued by the premise, and applaud the idea of opening on something entirely different, but, as always, I’m skeptical of WWE’s follow-through.)

-Out of the break, wrestlers congregated backstage around Adam Pearce. They were informed of Elias’ unfortunate incident, and then Jeff Hardy’s arrest. Sheamus spoke up, saying this is Hardy’s fifth or sixth offense. A.J. Styles approached and suggested he and Daniel Bryan immediately advance to the finals, having no opponents to face. Bryan instead suggested they be given other opponents.

Sheamus spoke up and agreed. He suggested facing Bryan himself. King Corbin stepped up and challenged A.J. Styles. Styles said he’s taking a bye to the finals. Sheamus suggested a triple threat between himself, Corbin, and Bryan. Jey Uso threw his name out, followed by Dolph Ziggler.

Shorty G called Ziggler a jackass and threw his name in. Pearce gave Styles his bye, and announced a battle royal between the remaining competitors for a chance to face Daniel Bryan later in the night. The winner of that match will then face Styles in the finals in two weeks. As the wrestlers dispersed, Bryan approached A.J., but Styles called him an idiot for wanting to wrestle tonight. The show went to commercial.

(LeClair’s Analysis: A round-about way to rebook a tournament, but if this gives Smackdown a couple of solid matches tonight, and furthers the angle between Jeff Hardy and Sheamus, it should work out well. Daniel Bryan looks like a fierce competitor if he wins, but risks looking like an idiot, as Styles said, if he loses. I’m not sure what the plan with Styles is here. He came off like a babyface last week, but tonight’s actions seem to indicate he’ll be a heel going forward. If that’s the case, I don’t usually like the idea of heels always outsmarting babyfaces.)

(1) Battle Royal to determine Daniel Bryan’s opponent in the Intercontinental title tournament

The bell rang as soon as the show returned from break. Chaos broke out immediately. Cesaro tossed Lince Dorado over the top rope but he hung on. Cesaro worked on Drew Gulak in the corner. Dorado tried to toss over Shinsuke Nakamura but failed. Gran Metalik nearly eliminated Dolph Ziggler.

Cole and Graves discussed the merits of A.J. Styles accepting a bye into the finals as Kin Corbin pounded on Gran Metalik in the corner. Cesaro military-pressed Ziggler over the top rope, but Dolph bounced awkwardly on the turnbuckle and held onto the ropes. Elsewhere, Sheamus tried to toss out Drew Gulak, but failed.

Sheamus began yelling at Michael Cole. Shorty G tried to dump him over from behind, but Sheamus held on. Lince Dorado got tossed onto the apron by King Corbin and caught him with a kick. Dorado tried to springboard back in the ring, but Corbin punched him off the rope and to the floor, eliminating him.

Corbin then tossed with Drew Gulak. He quickly got the better of him and tossed him over the top rope for another elimination. On the other side of the ring, Shorty G ducked a running knee from Nakamura while Sheamus watched. Gran Metalik took down Ziggler and Corbin with a double springboard elbow. He charged, but Ziggler caught him with a super kick. Corbin tossed him over with ease for a third elimination.

Ziggler quickly grabbed Corbin and tried to eliminate him, but Corbin blocked it. He said he was just messing around. Corbin tossed Ziggler out with ease. King Corbin turned around and ate a super kick from Jey Uso, sending him clear over the top rope to the floor, eliminating him. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Five men remained in the match when the show returned from the break – Sheamus, Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura, Shorty G, and Jey Uso. Sheamus and Cesaro worked in tandem and shared a fist bump.

Sheamus lifted Shorty G onto the top rope, but G grabbed an armbar and leaned over the ropes. Sheamus broke free, but G caught him with a tornado DDT off the top. Meanwhile, Jey Uso caught Cesaro with a super kick, then gave one to Shinsuke Nakamura. Shorty G hit a running barrel roll onto Cesaro in the corner, then turned his attention to Nakamura. He tried to toss Shinsuke, but Cesaro made the save.

Cesaro tossed Shorty G clean over the top, but G hung on to the middle rope, then successfully dragged Cesaro by the neck over the top to the mat, eliminating him. Cesaro slammed the announcers desk in frustration. Shinsuke Nakamura immediately attacked G, but G gave him a belly to belly suplex over the top rope to the floor.

Nakamura argued with the officials, allowing Cesaro to run back in the ring and toss Shorty G over the top rope. The referees tossed him out, despite not seeing the elimination. In the ring, Jey Uso attacked Sheamus with two big right hands, but got cut off when Sheamus tossed him to the apron. Sheamus set up for the Ten Beats of the Bodhran, but Jey caught him with a guillotine. Back in the ring, Jey caught Sheamus with a super kick, then a clothesline over the top. Sheamus hung on by his elbow.

Sheamus dragged Jey Uso out onto the apron with him, using his thumb in Jey’s eye. They traded punches. Jey dropped Sheamus to a knee, then went for a super kick. Sheamus caught his leg, shoved him into the ring post, then hit a Brogue Kick, dropping Jey to the floor.

WINNER: Sheamus in 15:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Surprisingly entertaining for a battle royal, especially near the end. I appreciated the call back to the Sheamus and Cesaro team, as well as the stand out moments for both Shorty G and Jey Uso as a singles competitor. Sheamus was likely the right winner here, and it further sets up his rivalry with Jeff Hardy, assuming he is the one who set Hardy up to be arrested. Should be a good match with Bryan, too.)

-Backstage, Sonya Deville was warming up. She turned to the camera and said Lacey Evans would suffer the same fate as Mandy Rose did last week. Lacey Evans was standing behind her. She shoved Deville to the mat, then said, “see you out there, you nasty.” Cole said the match would happen next.

-Out of the break, Shorty G argued backstage with Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura, saying they stole his opportunity. Cesaro said it’s the big leagues, and someone like him can’t be Intercontinental champion. He said Shorty G can walk away, or step in the ring with him. Shorty G punched Cesaro and accepted his challenge.

-Back at ringside, Lacey Evans headed to the ring and saluted the new audience. Cole showed how this match came together on Twitter. Sonya Deville came to the ring.

(2) LACEY EVANS vs. SONYA DEVILLE

Lacey Evans flipped her hair at Sonya Deville as the match began. Evans got down on all fours and told Deville she’d give her a head start. The two wrestled to a quick stalemate, then returned to their respective sides. Evans shot off the ropes and Deville dropped her with a shoulder tackle. She put her hair up as Evans kipped to her feet.

Deville went for a right hand, but Evans caught her with a side kick. She patted he face with a towel, then tossed it at Deville. Deville punched Lacey in the face, then drove her into the ring post. Deville toss Lacey back into the corner, pulled at her hair, and caught her with a cheap shot to the face.

Deville stepped on Evans’ hand, then kicked her in the chest. Evans took Deville down with her legs, then hit a face first plant into a gator roll to the outside. Evans caught Deville up in the ring apron and fired off forearms to the midsection. Deville slipped behind the apron and then to the mat.

As the referee reached a count of five, Deville speared Evans and mounted her, punching away. Evans turned the tide, but the referee counted both women out.

WINNER: No contest in 4:00

The two women continued to battle on the outside. Evans tossed Deville into the announcers table, clipping her ribs on the corner. Evans told Deville to get back in the ring. Deville grabbed a headset and said “I’ll fight you on my terms, blondie.” Deville walked away as Evans’ music played.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Not much to this one, but I appreciate them setting up the match earlier in the week on social media and then referencing it on WWE TV. It makes the matches seem more important, and gives some weight to their existence, rather than feeling like the match was just tossed on a board an hour before show time, as these match often do. There seems to be a real effort to make Deville a viable heel, and I think has a shot at becoming one if she improves in the ring and continues to develop this persona.)

-Another “Viewer Discretion Advised” promo aired for the Forgotten Sons. They said they corrected their flaws when they joined forced, and they no longer turn the other cheek to transgressions. They repeated the line about “your blood on our hands” from last week.

-Backstage, New Day snuck up on Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross and jumped them. They walked down the hall arm in arm. Corey Graves said a special tag team champion edition of A Moment of Bliss would be next.

-Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross headed to the ring for A Moment of Bliss when the show returned from commercial. Bliss waved at the audience, who gave the duo a warm welcome. Bliss welcomed everyone to the show. Nikki Cross said she was excited to welcome their guests. Bliss told her to calm down.

New Day came to the ring following Big E’s standard introduction. The crowd said it with him. Kofi Kingston and Big E danced to the ring, waving to and gyrating toward the crowd. They shook hands with Bliss and Cross, then took their seats beside them.

Bliss welcomed them to the first ever Tag Team Champion summit. Cross presented New Day with a gift, Scottish pancakes. “I made them by hand, they’re my grandmother’s special recipe,” Cross said. Kofi proclaimed his excitement. He and Kofi said they didn’t come empty handed. He pulled coffee beans from his singlet and put them in a cup. Kofi poured water in. Big E pulled out a massive spoon and stirred the cup, then handed it to Bliss.

Bliss thanked them as they encouraged her to take a sip. She passed it off to Nikki, but then changed the subject quickly. She asked New Day about stand out teams in their division. Kofi mentioned the Forgotten Sons. Big E asked Bliss and Cross about their competition. They were quickly interrupted by Bayley and Sasha Banks.

Bayley said she sees two great tag team champions, but not the best team on Smackdown. Sasha Banks agreed. Banks took off her jacket and tossed it at Bliss. Bliss tried to fly out of her chair, but Cross held her back. Nikki congratulated Bayley on her successful title defense. Bayley thanked Cross, but said Bliss seems unimpressed.

Bliss said the moment Bayley talks, she stops listening. She asked where Sasha’s title is. Bayley told Bliss not to talk about the “goat” like that. Banks called herself the conversation, and said she and Bayley put the women’s tag titles on the map. She said they could win the titles back anytime they want. Bliss told her to name a time and place. Bayley said Banks would show her how good of a team they are when she beats Bliss one on one.

Banks complained to Bayley that she wasn’t dressed to compete. Bayley said she’d run to the bus to get Sasha’s gear. Bliss gave her a dropkick. Cole sent the show to commercial.

(3) ALEXA BLISS vs. SASHA BANKS

The bell rang as soon as the show returned from break. Cole and Graves welcomed Nikki Cross and Bayley to the commentary table. Bliss rolled up Banks for a quick two count twice. Banks complained about her (lack of) gear. She tried to give Bliss an arm drag, but Bliss turned it into a crucifix pin for another two count.

Bliss slapped Banks in the face then smiled at her. Nikki Cross danced and cheered in approval. In the ring, Banks tripped Bliss into the turnbuckle and covered her for a two count. She mounted her and pinned her shoulders to the mat for another two count. Cross and Bayley continued to argue at the desk.

Banks kicked Bliss in the corner, then stuck her shoe in Alexa’s face. Banks gave her a snapmare out of the corner, then hit a running meteora for a two count. Banks grabbed Bliss’ arms as Cross tried to start a “Lexi” chant. Banks transitioned her knee into Bliss’ back. Bliss worked to a vertical base then broke the hold with knees to the midsection. Sasha grabbed Bliss and hit a side slam for a two count.

Banks set Bliss up in the corner and talked some trash. Bliss fired out of the corner with rights, then face-planted Banks off a corner leapfrog attempt. Bliss hit a pair of clotheslines, then a slap. Banks rolled Alexa through, but still got caught with a punch. Out of the corner, Banks roped Alexa’s head into the turnbuckle, then hit a second meteora, covering for a near fall.

Banks tried to maintain control, but Bliss rolled her into a cover for a two count. On the rebound, Bliss hit a big forearm then climbed to the top rope. Bayley left the table and jumped on the apron. Nikki Cross followed. Bayley shoved Cross into the turnbuckle, knocking Bliss off. Banks rolled Bliss up for a three count off the inadvertent interference.

WINNER: Sasha Banks in 7:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Lots of repeat offense from both women in this one. Most of the attention was on Bayley and Nikki Cross on commentary, but of whole were a bit overdramatic and annoying. It seemed that this was designed to further the tension between Banks and Bayley by having Banks lose on no notice, but having her win kind of resets the clock on their will they or won’t they dynamic. The Moment of Bliss set up for the match seemed entirely pointless. They could have accomplished the same thing in far less time in a backstage interview without involving New Day, which seemed like total fodder.)

-Michael Cole and Corey Graves reset the scene for the opening segment from ringside when the show returned from commercial. They threw to a replay of the footage, then talked up the main event between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus.

-Cesaro headed to the ring with Shinsuke Nakamura. Cole and Graves talked over footage of Cesaro illegally tossing Shorty G out of the ring during the battle royal earlier in the show. Shorty G headed to the ring.

(4) CESARO (w/ Shinsuke Nakamura) vs. SHORTY G

Shorty G lanced at Cesaro with a rolling kick as soon as the bell rang. Cesaro revered and tossed G toward the corner, but G leapfrogged him into a roll up for a quick two count. G quickly hit a cross body for another two count, then went to work on Cesaro’s legs.

Cesaro rebounded with a big spinning clothesline, then a running leg drop. He covered Shorty G for a two count. Cesaro slowed down the pace with an uppercut, then deadlifted G into a gut wrench suplex for another two count. Cesaro grabbed a leverage chin lock. Gable worked to his feet and got tossed to the ropes. Gable caught Cesaro with a basement dropkick to the knee.

Shorty G ran at Cesaro in the corner, but Cesaro caught him and tossed him into the air, catching him for a big power bomb on the way down. He covered for a near fall. Cesaro hit another uppercut, then lifted G onto the turnbuckle. Cesaro went for a super back drop, but Gable landed on his feet and immediately grabbed an ankle lock. Cesaro rolled through it, then caught G with a big uppercut for yet another near fall.

Cesaro set up for the Neutralizer. G blocked it, but Cesaro rolled through into a cover for a two count. Cesaro tossed G up into the air, but G grabbed a sunset roll into a cover for a surprise three count.

WINNER: Shorty G in 4:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Quick match, but it was good while it lasted. Both of these guys are insanely talented and it would be hard for them to have a bad match together. I like the idea of building up some wins for Shorty G, though, as usual, I dislike that it comes at Cesaro’s expense. It doesn’t seem like Cesaro is ever going to be allowed to build any coveted WWE momentum, which is too bad, especially given how valuable he’s been wrestling wise during this pandemic period.)

-Cole and Graves teased Otis and Mandy Rose’s day at the beach, coming up next.

-Mandy Rose and Otis were shown in lounge chairs, sharing champagne. Otis asked if she’d like to test the waters in the pool. She said she was getting tired and would take a nap. The camera switched to a dream like filter, showing Otis getting in the pool in slow motion and shaking his hair out. Otis got out of the pool and Mandy met him to make out.

The camera cut back to “real life” as Otis yelled “cannonball” and jumped in the pool, soaking Mandy. Otis apologized, asking if he’d woken her. She said “kind of”, but said she had an amazing dream. She got in the pool and kissed Otis, but not before giving one of his signature “oh yeahs.”

-Kurt Angle was shown backstage. He talked about being one of the flag bearers for Smackdown, and about his excitement for the Randy Orton vs. Edge match at Backlash. Then he turned his focus toward “the future.” He said he’s gotten to know Smackdown’s newest Superstar, and had the privilege of refereeing his final match in NXT this past week. Angle introduced Matt Riddle. A video package, narrated by Riddle, aired.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Strange that guys like Kurt Angle have been utilized more since being released than they had been in months while under contract. I’m intrigued by Kurt’s attachment to Riddle, and wonder if it extends beyond this introduction. Matt Riddle is a total wild card on the main roster. He could take off, or Vince could be entirely perplexed by what to do with him. I’m certainly interested to see how it shakes out.)

-Kayla Braxton began talking about Matt Riddle’s arrival. Sheamus cut her off. He said while everyone gets excited about Riddle, he gets results. He talked about winning the battle royal, and said he plans to become the first ever ultimate grand slam champion by winning the Intercontinental title for the first time. “There’s no place for the weak,” Sheamus said.

Daniel Bryan stepped up to Sheamus. Sheamus poked him in the chest. Bryan kicked him in the shin. Sheamus called him a dirty bastard and said he’d pay.

-Back from the break, the Progressive Match Flo recapped the set up for Braun Strowman vs. The Miz and John Morrison at Backlash. Cole and Graves said Miz and Morrison would have a “word” for Strowman next week.

-Daniel Bryan headed to the ring for the main event. The crowd broke into a “yes” chant. Sheamus entered as Cole and Graves recapped the finish of the battle royal earlier in the show.

(5) DANIEL BRYAN vs. SHEAMUS – Intercontinental title tournament semi-final match

Sheamus and Daniel Bryan circled the ring, then locked up. Sheamus wrestled Bryan to the mat in a headlock. Bryan broke free and worked over Sheamus’ arm. Bryan grabbed a headlock of his own, but Sheamus backed him in the corner, then shoved Bryan to the mat.

Sheamus and Bryan jostled for position. Sheamus brought Bryan to his knees and applied another stretch, but Bryan forced a break and kicked Sheamus into the corner. He delivered a trio of big uppercuts, reddening Sheamus’ chest. Sheamus exploded out of the corner with a big shoulder tackle.

Sheamus clubbed at Bryan’s back, then ripped at his beard. He drove his knee into Bryan’s sternum. Sheamus shot Bryan into the corner, but Bryan leapfrogged him and then launched Sheamus over the top to the floor. Bryan dropped Sheamus with a suicide dive through the ropes. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Bryan hyperextended Sheamus’ arm when the show returned from break. Off the ropes, Bryan grabbed a waist lock but Sheamus powered him into the corner then fired off a series of MMA style elbows into the neck and collarbone. Sheamus gave Bryan a quick knee, sending him rolling to the outside.

Sheamus followed and tossed Bryan into the barricade. He mocked the “yes” chant and implored Michael Cole to participate. He did, reluctantly. Bryan broke the referee’s count at seven. Sheamus hit a double axe handle off the top rope and covered Bryan for a two count. Sheamus took credit for creating the “yes” movement, then tossed Bryan in the corner.

Sheamus caught Bryan with the Irish Curse backbreaker, then turned him over into a Texas cloverleaf. Bryan pulled himself to the ropes and forced a break. Bryan pulled himself up by the ropes. Sheamus latched on, but Bryan wiggled free and hung Sheamus up on the rope before climbing to the top. Sheamus charged and caught him with a Brogue Kick to the leg, crouching Bryan.

Sheamus climbed and went for a superplex, but Bryan blocked it. He gave Sheamus a headbutt, knocking him to the mat. Bryan followed up with a missile dropkick, then fired off the “yes” kicks. Sheamus ducked the final round up and went for White Noise, but Bryan rolled through it and into a cover for a two count. Sheamus deadlifted Bryan off the mat, back into position, and hit White Noise for a near fall.

Bryan charged at Sheamus in the corner, but Sheamus caught him with a big elbow. He set up for the Brogue Kick, but Jeff Hardy appeared on the ramp, distracting Sheamus. Bryan caught Sheamus with the running knee for a three count.

WINNER: Daniel Bryan in 14:00

Jeff Hardy hit the ring and attacked Sheamus. Sheamus managed to slide under the bottom rope and escape up the ramp. Jeff’s music played as Cole and Graves wondered how Hardy managed to get out of jail. They showed an updated graphic of the tournament, showing that Bryan and Styles will meet in the finals in two weeks on Smackdown.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Good match. Sheamus and Bryan have always worked well together, and their careers will forever be intertwined for better or for worse. Sheamus was the right opponent for Bryan here, and though they got to it in a round about way, I think they were better off in this situation than the alternative. The only downside is that, since returning, Sheamus has beaten a bunch of enhancement guys, but lost both of his “real” matches. Granted, one was a fluke roll up and the other was off a distraction, but still. The Hardy/Sheamus dynamic is interesting and I’m curious to see where it goes next. Bryan vs. Styles should be an excellent final.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: This was a pretty dramatic improvement over last week’s show. While WWE continues to struggle, the addition of the Performance Center talent audience is a huge step in the right direction to inject life into these shows and give the format a much needed facelift. The wrestlers seemed more inclined to work their normal style versus the adopted “trash talk” format, and the promo segments, though not particularly strong, did at least come off as less awkward. I liked the strong focus on the tournament this week, and the attention surrounding the on-going Sheamus vs. Jeff Hardy angle, as I think both are far more intriguing than what’s been presented in the Universal title picture. A week to give Braun Strowman a rest was probably a very good idea. Backlash still looks like a weak show, but at least Smackdown has been stabilized with a fun tournament, an intriguing angle, and a new face in Matt Riddle going forward.

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