SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
WWE Smackdown Live TV Report
July 16, 2021
Houston, TX at Toyota Center
The biggest takeaway from the live TV event was this felt like a consequential event. It wasn’t quite at the level of a major PPV, but it had a certain easy-to-please, party-like atmosphere being the first live WWE TV event in front of an arena audience since the pandemic. The crowd wanted to be there, they wanted to see the wrestlers in person, and you could sense that the wrestlers wanted to be there and they wanted to interact with fans. It was a very unique atmosphere after so many months of wrestlers staring at TV screens instead of fans and fans watching TV screens of other fans. It felt normal again, with an added sense of excitement after such a long break.
– Although I wasn’t in the arena just yet to see the beginning of the show, the most popular stars were Edge and Rey Mysterio. Edge is big-time, and Rey is big-time with the added connection to a strong Hispanic audience in Houston. It helped that they were the first babyfaces out of the gate during Smackdown (along with Dominik). Finn Balor certainly got one of the biggest reactions interrupting Sami Zayn. I walked into the arena just as Balor made his return to Smackdown and you could hear a rush of noise when he returned to the brand. Kevin Owens also had a strong reaction when he interrupted Baron Corbin. He had a good night. Additionally, Bianca Belair was very popular with the younger crowd in attendance. She might not be polished, but the live crowd was completely into her act.
– Some acts were not over with the crowd or the crowd wasn’t sure how to react. I got the sense that large groups of audience members were trying to figure out how they were supposed to react to certain wrestlers. Cesaro fits that category, as the audience was subdued during his entrance before facing Otis. But, they popped for the Big Swing. Then, there’s Shinsuke Nakamura, who seems like a heelish act in a live arena setting with Rick Boogs doing the air guitar entrance routine. The crowd was not singing along to his theme, but WWE seemed to be trying to amp up the noise in the arena to help get the crowd to sing along. Nakamura doesn’t seem to have an identity. There’s also Seth Rollins, who is clearly positioned as a main event guy, but because he’s turned heel and face so many times during his career, there was a bit of a lukewarm feeling toward him during the main event.
– Post-TV Happenings: After Smackdown went off the air, Seth Rollins cut a promo from the top of the ladder to promote MITB. Kevin Owens then interrupted and asked him to pretty please come down the ladder. Seth refused, then more wrestlers filled up the ring. Pretty soon, there were about 10-12 guys in the ring. So, Adam Pearce came out and booked a battle royal … just for Houston. The winner would then advance to face Seth in a bonus main event.
Big E. won the battle royal by eliminating Apollo Crews. Other wrestlers in the battle royal included Owens, Nakamura, Cesaro, Dolph Ziggler, Bobby Roode, Balor, and Crews’ very tall enforcer Commander Azeez.
Rollins immediately attacked Big E. after the match, then sent some crotch chops around ringside to taunt the other wrestlers. Big E. then surprised him right away with the Big Ending for a quick win in a match that totaled about 1 minute.
After the second bonus main event, Big E. cut the go-home promo to send the crowd home happy. Big E. thanked Houston for showing out at the first live WWE TV show since the pandemic. He said he’s tired of looking at screens and he’s glad to see fans again. Big E. sent everyone home, then babyfaces slapped hands and took pictures with ringside fans to close out the taping.
That was not the only off-camera mic time for Big E. He took part in a pretty hilarious bit with Kevin Owens during a commercial break taunting Baron Corbin. After Owens took out Corbin with a Stunner, Corbin sulked back toward the stage. But, Owens and Big E. got on the mic to say they would donate to Corbin’s GoFundMe. Big E. volunteered $1,000. Owens said that’s a bit high, but he would go higher and donate $2,000. Big E. topped him, then Owens topped him. Corbin decided to walk down to the ring to potentially accept the offer, but after he was halfway there, he turned and walked back. Big E. and Owens played great off each other there.
– A few other notes: Two hours is the perfect length of time for a TV wrestling show in this era. The crowd was into the opening 25 minutes built around the six-man tag match, they came down a bit, they got back up for the Women’s Smackdown Title match, they came back down a bit, and they got back up for the fatal four-way main event. Then, the go-home segment after TV went off the air was a satisfying conclusion for an audience that really wanted to see wrestling in-person again and leave with a smile on their faces. It wasn’t a blow-away show since it was leading into a PPV, but it was satisfying for the live crowd… Watching the recording once I got home, Mr. McMahon’s opening bit came across odd, but it seemed like the live audience ate it up. It was just classic quirky Vince McMahon. … WWE did a lot of bits in between commercials to keep the crowd engaged. They did a People’s Eyebrow segment putting the camera on fans and they had a dance-off with fans in another break. This led to Pat McAfee dancing on the announce table to annoy Michael Cole, who tried to be a good sport about it. … The popular items at the merchandise stand were Texas WWE Live Tour t-shirts, Roman Reigns “Head of the Table” t-shirts, and title belts. There were belts everywhere. Men, women, and children were all about the belts. … The crowd demographic was very mixed. It was a very diverse crowd in terms of ages, races, and genders. Lots of kids with parents, some older lapsed fans wanting to see WWE in-person again (as evidenced by their Attitude Era t-shirts), and the typical adult male audience that’s tuned into everything going on right now. … WWE returns to Houston on Monday, October 25 for live Raw TV.