SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
•The Next Chapter: The main event storyline of Smackdown is the show’s best in at least a decade, maybe ever. The Clash of Champions ending had me thinking that we’d seen a conclusive end to the Jey Uso/Roman Reigns feud, however, I was pleasantly surprised for a natural and compelling continuation of the storyline played out last night with an intriguing next chapter at Hell in a Cell ahead. Perhaps it was Jey Uso blowing away all expectations last week that has positioned him here, or a simple lack of quality opponents for Reigns, but regardless, this program is bringing out the absolute best that could’ve possibly been expected from Reigns. His subtle acting and vocal delivery is pitch-perfect in every way, and the role of Heyman continues to be unexpected yet totally invaluable.
•Fall Styles: A few weeks ago, I mentioned how the Reigns-Uso program was being hurt by having such a drastic fall in the quality of the main players to the supporting characters in King Corbin and Sheamus. Thankfully, AJ Styles being inserted in the role to maintain Jey Uso’s credibility is a significantly stronger choice and pairing that with a win was another key building block in establishing a longer term investment in Uso beyond Hell in a Cell. Styles is such a vital member of the roster in that he freely navigates being a veteran positioned to help build to the future while simultaneously being the best in the world.
•KO Climax: The transition of a Alexa Bliss into the dark side has felt like a lifetime but last night we hit another climax on the journey and the payoff felt more satisfying visually with the last shot than even the most optimistic of projections could’ve predicted. There is a feeling that we are off to the races with several key Smackdown elements, and the Bliss/Fiend pairing is one of those components that feels special. The infusion of the KO Show was eye-roll inducing in its introduction, but KO was a good side character for the moment and can advance the overall storyline next week as a key upper mid card act that Smackdown has been missing.
•Bankable Sasha: Sasha Banks is the best female performer in North America. The physical transformation of Banks through her acting has been excellent, and her promos, including and especially tonight, are top-tier and bonus points for saying Bayley was using her to become the longest running Smackdown women’s champion. Everything about this program feels so much more elevated than every WWE women’s program since Rhonda Rousey departed. Perhaps this would’ve been a good time to roll out the old ECW halo angle with Pitbull #1 and Shane Douglas to add heat to Bayley. I’m assuming next week’s match turns more into an angle to set up a Hell in a Cell showdown. Still, this is a compelling watch week-in and week-out, and Sasha Banks is the key contributor to that.
•In-Zayn: Sami has been such a sneak attack hit these past few weeks. He has never had the full-throated endorsement of WWE but a win to close out an episode of Smackdown during a peak era is a great thing to have right about now. Zayn is also getting more credible offense in, which is a imperative and Jeff Hardy is a super solid foil for him. Well done.
•Needing the Next Gear: There is a lot to love about Smackdown right now, that is without question. It also is worth noting that in best days of the initial NWO and McMahon/Austin angles, there were still significant weak points of the midcards. However, the pitiful presentation of key performs including Matt Riddle (more on that later) and just a parade of bargain basement characters (not wrestlers), and it is now time to developed the lower midcard to match the quality of the main event and top tier.
•The Definition of Defined Down: Matt Riddle. Any thought that last week’s loss to King Corbin was going to be a catalyst to a breakout moment of Riddle showing fire and passion seemed gone the moment he showed his hairstyle and tag partners last night. It is an unbelievable turn of events at a time when WWE is in such a need for quality, cool new acts to have a star-in-waiting like Riddle being so clearly defined down. Maybe the comparisons to Kerry Von Erich are a little too on-the-mark in Riddle only being able to reach a certain level on the WWE card. Who knows if like Kerry the personal baggage is what is holding him back, but it is unfortunate all the way around.
•Kings, Chiefs, and Warriors: We have a Tribal Chief, and that is a beautiful thing. We do not need a king to go along with that nor a Celtic warrior that looks like he’s wearing a poor man’s turn the 20th century costume. The juxtaposition of the cartoonish Corbin and Sheamus acts against the crisp presentation of Reigns just shows the vast difference in quality of the characters. This hot moment for Smackdown could come undone very quickly the moment the Banks/Bayley and Uso/Reigns programs wrap up, and the time is now to drop the roles that are so counter productive and define up these legacy acts who can serve a role.