SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
•Era of the Uce
I am firmly of the belief that this storyline of Roman Reigns and Jey Uso is the best main event program in the WWE in years. There are just so many components that are perfectly coming together including the absolutely phenomenal shift in the Reigns persona and Uso more than holding his own with a star-turn of his own. Yes, Uso seems to get ahead of himself with his promos, but they feel more authentic than the stiff, scripted delivery that populates these shows anymore. Last night’s chapter only added to this quality episodic program. The inclusion of the video testimonials from the previous generations was a terrific addition and the ending of seeing the next gear of the heel Reigns was perfection. I’ll say it again, this could also be the start of Jey Uso being wrestlings next big thing as the counterpoint to Reigns. Sunday may just be make-or-break for all of these advancements.
Perhaps the pairing with Cesaro was exactly what the doctor ordered. An inspired Shinsuke Nakamura showed a fire and quickness last night against Gran Metalik that I have not seen previously in his WWE run and made me wonder where this was during his main event run two years ago. With less pressure on him, Nakamura is able to deliver in a big way, and Cesaro himself looked like the star we all know he can be right at his side. It’s amazing to think about how great Cesaro has been with so many tag partners, and his impact on Nakamura is tangible.
It was not my favorite choice to have Jeff Hardy, Sami Zayn, and A.J. Styles meet ahead of their match on Sunday, but actually it all turned out to be a better promotion for the bout than anything else. For all anyone knows, the Smackdown crew might’ve been a smaller one this week bringing this match to fruition, but the high quality here made me look forward to Sunday to see the ladder element infused and the championship on the line. Zayn also left in a better place than he was last week, which is only a help to the Intercontinental Division which features some of the best talent that it has had in years. Hardy, to his credit, is showing a crispness in his matches that he hasn’t displayed in quite some time.
•A Better Bayley
This shorter presentation of the Bayley promo worked for me more than her previous center stage two weeks ago. Bayley strikes me as being on the cusp of really figuring out who she is as a character. That is both good in that the areas that Sasha was able to shield in her previously seem to be coming together as a solo act and bad because there are flashes of Bayley being underdeveloped. Either way, the Clash of Champions women’s program is not something to dread, which alone is a win.
The evolution of Alexa Bliss has taken a bit too long for my taste overall, but tonight’s next steps worked beautifully. The physical transformation and acting of Bliss was exactly what was needed to feel like we are starting the next chapter and felt interesting enough to not have been a channel-changing moment. The staring-at-Roman Reigns moment went on a beat too long into awkward territory – as many WWE moments seem to be lately – but otherwise Bliss left in a better place than the she was coming in.
•Best in Show
In the past month, Smackdown has become the best wrestling show on television. The combination of the fresh main event program, nicely developed mid-card storylines, and the Thunderdome have created a show worth genuinely looking forward to watching.
The type of miss that anyone would dread for a newly introduced act, and especially outrageous considering that it is Matt Riddle. A loss to King Corbin alone could be a kiss of death, but pair that with a long, competitive match and Riddle was absolutely defined down by it all. Thankfully, his inherit charisma and star quality seemed to still shine in the post-match promo, but I would attribute that more to the man than the intent of the moment. This all feels like a blatant, unnecessary self-inflicted wound, and if the WWE is committed to pushing Corbin, it should be in concert with Riddle not at his expense.