SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
We were always headed to this collision course between Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns. Chalk it up to a shallow talent roster, a non-existent upper midcard, and underdeveloped characters, but it has always felt inevitable that Owens would be a stop on the way on Reigns’s path of destruction. Thankfully, though, when the moment arrived, Owens rose to the occasion. I will never feel totally comfortable with him using the stunner as a finisher, but the fiery attack on Jey Uso and calling out of Reigns felt like the most important work that Owens has done in years. I do not expect Owens to be a serious threat for taking the Universal Championship, but this will be an important program to re-establish a credible second tier of Smackdown.
Sami Zayn has been brilliant since his return. He is fully committed and immersed in his character, and Zayn never feels like he is playing a part when he is doing his most goofy, despicable work. Pairing Sami Zayn and Daniel Bryan together is always going to produce beautiful work, and I was glad to see that both walked away tonight without a loss. Zayn and Bryan are both at interesting parts of their careers where they are established enough to recover from losses easily but also are in danger of having those same losses be too commonplace. Regardless, Zayn is tremendous and is due for a meaningful feud for his championship. Perhaps Big E will be just what the booker ordered.
Much of this week’s Smackdown felt like a place holder to a week when WWE will not have to compete with travel and family time, but the leftover elements from what we know this era of the show to be were very good. I liked the Street Profits vs. Dolph Ziggler & Robert Roode progression (enhanced by Montez Ford’s losing facial expessions), Jey Uso’s attack on Otis, and Bayley being Bayley. There is enough goodwill built into the show at this point that the misses (and there were plenty) were not so devastating.
Roman Reigns is an undeniable, slam dunk hit week-in-week-out, so this is only a half-hearted miss. His acting has been top notch and the character is pitch perfect. With that said, Roman Reigns has been at his best during this run when he was not seen so frequently throughout the show and instead feeling like a genuine main event, special attraction. That increasing frequency is leading to the inconsistencies of his characters motivations seeming to change from being a gaslighter to instead just being poorly written. The mystery of Reigns is what should have the entire roster afraid of him, but as just another guy in the locker room, it feels reductive.
•Uso Out of Range
I continue to be a strong fan of the work Jey Uso has been doing, but tonight was a mixed bag. His worst mic habits were on full display including getting ahead of himself, relying too much on the word “Uce,” and just shouting. His attempt to cry wasn’t exactly going to threaten Sterling K. Brown for an Emmy either. Jey Uso is at his sweet spot when he is working opposite someone (namely Paul Heyman and especially Roman Reigns) and thankfully he was able to regain traction as the show went on, beginning with his sensational attack on Otis. Uso is still the surprise breakout star of the year, but it’s time for him to calm down and fully commit to an individual character that exists on its own.
•Hall of Mysterio Mirrors
The Baron Corbin vs. Murphy match might have been the most awfully booked match of the year. After all the work and effort put into the extended program with Seth Rollins, the Mysterio Family and Murphy somehow looked completely unlikable and managed to make Baron Corbin look like the most relatable person ringside. The writers need to stop being too-cute-by-half with the Mysterio storylines and just let them be. The ensemble of the entire family being together is turning into a real negative for all involved, and Buddy Murphy is too talented to be saddled with the storyline that he needs all of them to win – against Baron Corbin no less.
•Belair as Banks Body Double
Bianca Belair looked like a carbon copy of Sasha Banks last night. The entirety of her entrance including her strut and poses all through the match felt like an unintentional duplication of Banks. It didn’t seem to be acknowledged in any way that felt like an overt start of a program, but is something that WWE should look to update immediately. Belair is the brightest rising star on the Smackdown women’s roster and she needs her own personality to shine to match her talent level. A Royal Rumble win and subsequent Wrestlemania program with Banks feels like a natural progression here, but Belair is first in need of her identity and a character worth investing in.