SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
The Smackdown main event scene remains the best written program in WWE with natural progressions in both storyline and characters. This week was no different with Kevin Owens, much more firmly planted as a competent, legitimate force against Roman Reigns, using Reigns and Jey Uso’s tactics against them. The stunner is also appearing much more effective of a finisher for Owens than it has previously, and tonight’s win will be a big part of that move feeling important. It might’ve gone a beat too far by having Owens dismantled so quickly and violently but clearly Reigns is being protected from showing too much weakness. It’s been a long, long time since an act has been so clearly shielded (pun intended), and overall it is a good thing. Uso seems to have been formally moved down to a sidekick role rather than a reluctant servant taking him out of the Wrestlemania challenger stakes. While that is not my hope for him long term, Uso is just fine being an upper mid-card stepping stone for Reigns.
Sonya Deville’s brief but significant return answered a lot of questions coming out of last week’s show, namely who is worthy of being an opponent to Sasha Banks during Wrestlemania season. Carmella was so clearly defeated last week and the rest of the women’s division seems so weak overall, but Sonya’s confidence and excellent costuming is head and shoulders stronger from nearly the entire roster. Carmella is obviously being kept in the women’s championship program despite her definitive losses as a stopgap to the next program starting. My money is on Sonya either being the Wrestlemania opponent or the feeder program before a special attraction (ie Rhonda Rousey) match for Banks. I bet Deville overdelivers along the way.
The Wrestlemania wind seems to be fully in the sails of Daniel Bryan and another tonight paired with continued talk about him never previously winning the Royal Rumble indicates he has a big Winter/early Spring ahead of him. This could all be leading to either a main event program with Roman Reigns, which in many ways would be the most optimal of all options, or a major program of someone preventing his Rumble win similar to Hogan and Sid in 1992. Either way, Bryan is being presented as being important and there is no one that can deliver on that quite as well as Daniel Bryan. He, in many ways, would be the perfect foil to Reigns in the Thunderdome era where the visual of the Yes! chants can still being carried along and there is less a feeling of a ‘wasted’ dream program without a crowd.
•Best of the Mid-card
Bayley and Sami Zayn continue to be the beating heart of the midcard of the WWE despite their recent championship losses. Both continue to transcend their booking and the quality of developed characters in their opponents, and in the process elevate a mediocre midcard to feeling somewhat important.
•Back to Where We Started
Despite Owens and Carmella’s December losses to Reigns and Banks respectably, it is clear that there was no one waiting in the wings to take on the top contender spots for either of the main championships. Thus, the programs continued. That is concerning. Certainly it is a good thing that Owens is performing at such a high level right now that he has earned that extension, but the women’s program in particular feels unnecessarily elongated or just poorly managed. The great thing about the Royal Rumble show is that the rumbles themselves are the sellling point, so risks can be made in the championship matches to elevate someone who otherwise might not be in the title picture to test the waters. This feels like a wasted opportunity for something fresh.
•Big E’s Big Mo Extinguished
It was just a week ago that Big E’s championship win felt like it was the start of something important. That already feels like a decade ago. Being immediately placed in a match with King Corbin and then being a supporting character to a rising Apollo Crews seemed to be the oddest continuation of his journey that one could possibly imagine. I have very little faith that we are on a well-developed journey that leads Big E to years of main event status and its for reasons like this. We are seeing individuals right now being protected on the Smackdown roster, so the writers clearly know how to do that. It is shocking that Big E is not one of those individuals.
The women’s division right now appears to be such a mess, and in large part that is due to the major contrast between last week’s triple threat tag match featuring the biggest stars of WWE’s women’s roster (due to Charlotte and Asuka’s inclusion) and the reality of the situation. Tamina, Riott Squad and Natalya just seem so weak and literally have zero character development between all of them. The rest (Bayley, Banks, Carmella) have cycled through each other too much to feel fresh, and Bianca is being criminally misused as the happy-go-lucky athletic wonder when she could be a vicious heal that is needed right now. Sonya’s return is significant, but there is no reason that the other women cannot receive intentional writing to get them on a semblance of track.
•Tag Team Turf War
Does anyone care about the Street Profits vs. Roode/Ziggler program? No. Is that a shame? Yes.