SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Editor’s Note: Welcome aboard our new Smackdown Hits & Misses writer, Nick Barbati, a longtime PWTorch reader making his Hits & Misses debut this weekend. He replaces Pat McNeill, who has had to step down from this post. Thanks to Pat for his contributions in recent months; it was fun having him back in the pages of the Torch again for a while.
•Retribution for Nexus
The formal debut of Retribution felt eerily familiar to the Nexus invasion of 2010 complete with destruction of ring and assault on ringside individuals. But, while it was a definite retread, it was also a big angle needed at a moment when everything else seems to be treading water. It was too much of a stretch to pretend that the Performance Center attendees-turned-audience-members couldn’t just walk around the ringside areas to confront the invaders rather than just banging on the protective shields, but overall it was a memorable end with a hook to tune in again. That is more than can be said for most weeks.
Without a proper audience it is impossible to truly tell how Matt Riddle is connecting, but as an at-home viewer, the dots are connecting. Sheamus was a formidable opponent and the excellent displays of Sheamus’s strength made Riddle’s competitive performance a meaningful one. It’s only a shame that he also didn’t walk away with a clean win. The Shorty G ending did absolutely nothing good for anyone involved. Riddle gives off a nice mix of the Von Erich boys, and he looks like he’s in a fight for his life every time and his shift in gears feels more urgent than nearly anyone else currently on any roster. This week was no different.
•Money in the Banks
Sasha Banks is obviously relishing in her time as the spotlight female performer and is exuding a confidence that has been missing in her act for years. Regardless of the weak championship victory, Bank is owning her role with a less congested top tier and has done a strong job of raising Bayley’s game (rather than vice versa) in the process. Serving as the alpha rather than the assistant is a much better fit for Banks. With that said, both she and Bayley were strong in their scene with Stephanie, who actually managed to weave a feeling that the past weeks have mattered into an impactful tone of authority. Thumbs up all around.
Yes, you read that right, and no you didn’t miss a promo during a bathroom break. Monday might’ve been a chaotic night, most profoundly represented by the debut of Raw Underground, but the show moved at a brisk speed and never seemed dull. Smackdown, on the other hand, felt every bit as long as its two hour show and was formulaic as ever aside from the final segment.
•The Hardworking B-Team
Whether you view Smackdown as the B-Show or just that we are working with a greatly reduced staff, make no mistake about it, this feels like the B-team. The work, though, of everyone throughout the show was impressive with clearly a lot of effort and pride being put on display. Lince Dorado showed a young Rey Mysterio flair complemented by an always impressive Cesaro. Along the way we also saw a renewed look for Mandy Rose, plus hard work from Sheamus, Heavy Machinery, and the rest of the cast of mid-carders. It might not be the strongest roster, but they are working hard and it shows.
•Main Event Mess
This WWE Championship program is easily one of the weakest ever heading into a Summerslam. Thankfully, there is always Diesel-Mabel to keep that spot warm, but this is getting close with eviction papers in hand. The Fiend character just doesn’t translate to the Performance Center space. He looks too much like a Muppet costume outside of the arena setting, and the awkward scene with Alexa Bliss seemed like a community theater version of “Phantom of the Opera” mixed with a nightmare take on “The Nutcracker.” Braun Strowman, for his part, is the most easily forgotten WWE Champion in memory.
•Dirt Sheet Double Issue
Talk about too much of a good thing. There were elements of this that were good – namely John Morrison showing a more effortless personality and Sonya Deville being noticeably more comfortable in a smaller venue – but everything about this went too long. The hair bit felt like a time sucker because that’s probably exactly what it was, and the longer Deville talked, the more she sounded like she belonged on “Real Housewives of New Jersey” complaining about a fight in a boutique. That is a long way from the MMA-type fighter character that we met, but to Deville’s credit,serving as a valet might not be a bad position as she has formed a strong visual as a sidekick to Dolph Ziggler in the past and now Miz & Morrison.
•Mass Power Outages
Why have multiple acts that have a direct effect on the power of the building? The novel component of The Fiend’s act just seems reductive now when the arena looks exactly as it does during his entrance and exit as it does during the antics of Retribution. There certainly are other dramatic effects to employ for the new group without taking away from your top act.
It’s not the audience wearing masks that’s a miss, but seeing the basic Smackdown masks in the audience just shows what a missed opportunity it has been for WWE to not embrace the use of masks for the benefit of its product. There are few businesses that have the ability to produce as cool, and profitable, masks as WWE using both current and retro content, and this just seems like money left on the table to make a lame political statement.