SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
•Thunder(Dome) in Paradise
The Thunderdome was a definite change in the viewing experience that has become typical the past five months, and by and large, the changes were for the better. At times during certain shots, you could almost convince yourself that you were watching a pre-COVID-19 Smackdown. The brightness of the experience will need to be tweaked as it felt at times like you were in the middle of Times Square and pulled focus too much from the action. With that said, the benefit of being able to present the wrestlers as stars was noticeable, namely with The Fiend regaining a significant amount of umph that he’d lost.
The linkage between The Fiend and Retribution was both intriguing and necessary. There are only so many tricks to pull off these days and the lights out effect seemed reductive when it was being used in two unrelated storylines. This relationship also greatly benefits the Retribution group in that it takes off a lot of pressure of a reveal since they will be seen as side characters to The Fiend rather than be expected to run as a main event act in its own right. They will also have permission to do some of their more outrageous stunts without an expectation of continuity and sense.
The A.J. Styles-Jeff Hardy dynamic felt like an old-school, comfortable one and, because of that, was a highlight of the night. It is scary to think of how far we’ve gone that this classic approach seems so novel, but in the immediate it was an easy to consume watch that had a satisfying ending. AJ was excellent as always and his initial attack on Hardy’s leg was perfect. Hardy, too, was at his best at this point in his career.
It is far too soon to break up Bayley and Sasha Banks, but there is worth in showing cracks in their friendship along the way. It has been years at this point, but there is still enough hope of a proper sequel to their NXT feud that is folklore at this point amongst fans. My hope is that Summerslam’s women’s championship matches can simultaneously protect Asuka while maintaining Bayley and Banks as the of-the-moment supremes. Losing the tag titles at Payback would be a more face-saving move.
Sonya Deville is really finding herself,and it shows. From the wardrobe to her overall confidence level, there is a character that is being defined with a tangible feeling of worth. Deville seemed to take a beat to get comfortable in her promo last night, but by it’s end, she was shining brighter than almost all last night.
•Unworthy Main Event
There is no other way to put it: this Universal Championship storyline is not worthy of the Summerslam main event. The Fiend character is a compelling watch. That much is not debatable, but Braun Strowman is simply not where he needs to be to carry such a significant role. The stunt chokeslam at the end was not edited tight enough and felt ridiculous in all the wrong ways.
•Same Same Same
No matter how much you alter the production of the show, you can’t change the fact that matches are completely rinse-and-repeat at this point. Either a repositioning of certain acts or call ups need to hit Smackdown to give us some fresh air because there is nothing interesting about watching the same midcard matches week-in, week-out. The longterm negative impact on acts like Sheamus just being seen in that role cannot be underestimated.
The Thunderdome went a long way in serving as a better eye candy for the home viewer, but the audience set-up just isn’t where it needs to be. The at-home viewers often looked like they were a part of a hostage situation with little or no reaction at all. Nothing was worse than the zoom-in moments after a major happening like the Hardy title win, infusing awkwardness in an otherwise lemonade-out-of-lemons situation.
The big Big E. push isn’t happening. Once again, Big E. was presented as an ordinary tag team wrestler being given a singles match rather than a rising star who happens to have friends with whom he shares a stable. It’s a real shame because there would be perhaps no better moment to redefine Big E. as a next generation star with a lot of history and earned respect. Midcard E. is the best we are going to get at this time.