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Even Playing Field
The latest chapter in the Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns program was a logical extension of last week with Reigns and Paul Heyman intent on proving they are not to be outsmarted. The episode-long storyline of Paul Heyman vs. Adam Pearce was told at a nice pace and ultimately lead to a satisfying swerve with Reigns taking Heyman’s place and subsequently still being overpowered by Owens in the end. It’s important for Owens to be put over this strong to build him up for the long term despite the fact that nearly no one believes he’s leaving the Royal Rumble with the championship. This program has done more to build up Owens than nearly anything since his initial run with John Cena. Bonus points to Adam Pearce’s physique not looking like that of the talents. It really added to the storyline that he is not a wrestler anymore and is not a physical equal to the Bloodline faction.
The Ding Dong Show is about as poor of a name for a segment as I can think of, but the obstacle course challenge really served as a breakout moment for Bianca Belair. By displaying her genuine athleticism, she also showed more natural expressions that didn’t fall into the cartoonish style she’s been working lately. Bayley, with her devious “can I speak to the manager” persona, is the absolute perfect foil to get Belair ready for the top tier of the women’s division. Belair carrying Otis seemingly so effortlessly was a truly enjoyable moment and one that hopefully is a restart for what has been an overall lackluster run for her.
Apollo Crews is on a roll right now and has firmly taken the role that Big E was thought to be serving as a rising mid-card talent. Crews’ in-ring work has been tremendous the past couple of weeks and he has out-classed Big E each time they’ve been in the ring together. You have to wonder if a live crowd was in attendance, how much more they would be reacting to Crews over Big E. It’s impossible not to notice the passion and talent just oozing from Crews. Big E has not updated his look or his move set at all heading into the Royal Rumble and it’s a stark contrast to Crews’ overflowing momentum.
Swing for the Fences
This is Cesaro’s time and this week’s Smackdown was an even more impressive showing of him heading into the most important season of the year. While the match with Dolph Ziggler might have been short, Cesaro came out looking mighty and like someone who is on a momentum role rather than just being unnecessarily thrust into an unearned push. The Neutralizer on Ziggler might’ve been his best ever and was an exclamation point on two weeks of sensational matches. Is Cesaro an actual threat to win the Rumble? Probably not, but he’s a great dark horse to consider and could be a great opponent for Drew McIntyre or even Finn Balor.
Billie Kaye remains one of the best surprises so far of WWE in 2021. Her performances have been nothing short of brilliant in humor and Billie has gone all-in on maximizing her time. This is the type of run that can lead to many years worth of programs and work. Maybe not a world championship, but serving as the female Santino Marella is a way of maintaining a long career.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Dominik Mysterio seems like a nice guy, but where does this storyline with his father and King Corbin actually take us? Did an alien run through Smackdown and kidnap Murphy and Aalyah? Does Dominik have the training to do more in the ring than we have seen him do? If not, is live network tv the place for having such a green talent grow? The Mysterio storyline seems like the messiest of the Smackdown storylines with little attention being paid to next steps. Someone needs to sit down and map out a future for all involved and add some intentionality to the entire program.
Add Shinsuke Nakamura to the missing persons list on the Smackdown roster. Amazingly after his star-making turn in the gauntlet match two weeks ago, we are at a stage where it’s not even a big deal that he wasn’t present on television. For whatever reason, Nakamura wasn’t on the show (either personal or intentional), but a video package highlighting him would have been a fine surrogate to keep him in the conversation heading into the Royal Rumble. Considering the time being afforded to overly long recap packages, that time would be much better utilized highlighting the talent that was not on the show.
The whole dynamic of Sasha Banks and Reginald/Carmella was fine for what it was and did not cross over into the uncomfortable realm. With that said, it’s all seeming like a big stall tactic to get us to a more significant day. Plus, Reginald is far from being a compelling watch. Banks still has a commanding presence that is vital to the show, but it’s more important than ever for her to have a valuable opponent awaiting her on the other side of the Royal Rumble. Yet, there is no real obvious choice in who could fill that role.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S SMACKDOWN HITS & MISSES: WWE SMACKDOWN HITS & MISSES 1/15: Outfoxing the Big Dog, Billie Kay’s dilemma, the other family, and more