OVER & UNDERS – WWE SMACKDOWN (3/29): Solo shows Solo dominance, Aldis’s eyes, Too Much Light, Cargill’s entrance, Master Storyteller Heyman, more

By Kevin Duncan, PWTorch contributor


We are a week away from WrestleMania. This is the second-to-last Smackdown before the biggest wrestling night(s) of the year. It’s not the “go home” show, but it’s definitely the “It’s getting dark and my mom will wonder where I am soon” show. That means WWE is going to be rolling out the red carpet of drama, with a zeroed-in focus on all of our key storylines, without introducing anything new and distracting from those narratives. With that in mind, as our top billed match tonight…WE GET…the non-wrestling debut of Jade Cargill. Well, you can’t win them all. Let’s dig into the most overrated and under-appreciated moments from Friday Night Smackdown.


Seeing Solo Sikoa’s simple “Let’s go” head gesture to Jimmy Uso was barely noticeable, but spoke volumes. When Roman Reigns isn’t around, Solo is the alpha. Now, if we could see them build him up better with actual matches, we’d be on the right track. But alas, we’ll have to settle for subtle alpha moves until Roman takes his next sabbatical (with or without the title). This dominance of Solo was further exemplified by Jimmy hilariously trying, and failing, to get a high-five from him. I like this schtick of Jimmy being kind of a loser that thinks he’s cool, but 8 days from WrestleMania, after he finally showed some fire on the mic, this is counter-productive.


Did Bianca BeLair have an optometrist appointment today? That’s the only logical explanation I can think of for her wearing sunglasses indoors, at night. I get it. Sunglasses look cool…in the daytime…to block UV rays from entering our corneas. I’m fairly certain there are no such threats in the parking garage of Mohegan Sun…right here…in Connecticut! I can’t avoid sneaking in a cheap Mick Foley pop. Now I get why he did it all the time. The crowd response is intoxicating. Wait…I don’t have a crowd? Sigh. Moving on. Bianca versus Dakota Kai tonight feels like such a filler match, that even a plastic surgeon would think it’s overkill. On a side note, this is a missed opportunity by me to make this its own thought, so I could use the headline “Dakota Why”. Live and learn, folks. Live and learn.


Why did Randy Orton (during his entrance) pat his belly like Santa Claus who just finished a plate of cookies? Is he telling us to lower our expectations because he had a massive steak dinner before the match? Is this an Easter egg (see what I did there?) for the return of a starving Ryback? Is Randy constipated and feeling overly bloated? Or, did he simply run out of baby oil, and is now convinced that his six pack looks like a keg? Maybe we’ll get an answer to this…out of nowhere. Yes, that was a stretch, but like Randy, I’m running on fumes at this stage of my career. Stomach issues aside, it’s a nice touch by Orton to hold up a fan sign, then sign the sign (too meta?). That kind of audience interaction makes you want to be there.


Kevin Owens’ brick wall, wrecking ball graphic, aside from sitting on a stagnant image for too long, looks like it was made in the ‘90s, in an elementary school computer class, with Microsoft Paint. We have all of these amazing augmented reality graphics, but Kevin Owens gets this? There’s even a jarring jump cut in it that makes it seem like WWE has poor WiFi, or someone was microwaving something nearby. Just keep fighting…the graphic designers until they do right by you, Kevin. The amazing shot from behind Owens, walking into an electric, at-capacity arena, almost makes up for the low-rent start. We’ve seen this kind of shooting week after week but it’s still awe-inspiring when they really lean into showing their fan base in creative ways.


I kind of love that WWE is using “Pawn Stars”-esq factoids now. It’s nice to be reminded that Kevin Owens knocked out two people with one punch last week, without wasting time on a recap video. It keeps the pace moving effectively. I hope they continue this device with more tongue-in-cheek information.


During Pretty Deadly’s entrance, Wade Barrett said they told him earlier that they “Shoved two fingers up to management…” to get this match. A little edgy, but nonetheless funny subtleties by one half of the best commentary team in wrestling (with Corey Graves). On a side note, I thought Elton Prince looking terrified of Randy Orton was a fun throwback to last week’s segment. His partner asking if he’s okay just accentuated the hilarity even more.


Randy Orton on the turnbuckle punching Elton Prince was ruined by a poorly angled shot. We could see him completely missing his punches as the crowd counted (each whiff). Strike one for the camera crew tonight. It goes to show you how important cinematography is. One bad camera angle can ruin an entire match. Imagine if they improperly angled Pretty Deadly’s entrance, and we were deprived of the glamorous disco ball. Where would we be then?!


During the Pretty Deadly versus Randy Orton and Kevin Owens match, a tally graphic appeared on screen, listing the top five most-played superstars in WWE2K24. This could easily be missed, but if you pay attention to it, it sends a significant message. The top five (from least to) most played superstars are Stone Cold, Randy Orton, John Cena, Roman Reigns and then Cody Rhodes. Look at that stacked company, and how Cody sits ahead of all of them. He truly is the face of wrestling right now. On a completely unrelated note, when Orton went to clear the announce table, he inadvertently sent a monitor flipping across the screen, in a move that would rival Ricochet in a ladder match. Go back and check it out. I find this way more amusing than I should, and Wade Barrett did too. Wade reacted like he just saw a turtle fly, half shock, half pure joy.


I’m all for enhanced realism in WWE, but sometimes the seams show a little too much. This is going to happen when you take risks with improved production value though, so it’s forgivable. The moment I’m referencing is the Kevin Owens, Logan Paul and Randy Orton chase backstage. Twice we see a man carrying a massive light panel. It’s kind of hilarious, but it also takes me out of the danger of the moment. I feel like I just saw a sound guy while Bear Grylls was clinging to life by a thread. It just sheds the veneer of danger too much by seeing someone so close to the action. Cheap plug, that’s why the show I developed a series called “Alone” on History Channel. We stripped away those distractingly safe elements, and had survivalists film themselves. I’m not saying we have wrestlers film themselves, but this could have been salvaged by Randy grabbing a light and launching it at Logan, almost like he’s not expecting it to be there either.


Iyo Sky’s promo here was solid. Like I always say, the best villains are driven by a modicum of rational truth, that they simply take too far. Unfortunately, I think it’s too little, too late to hype her as a credible opponent for Bayley. I feel like I’m seeing a sale on Christmas lights on Christmas Eve. Why should I care at this point? It’s basically over. Thanks, WWE. You Grinch’d up Christmas. Ruining festivities aside, the content in this promo was pretty good. I like the framing that Bayley built Damage CTRL (and single-handed rejected vowels) to boost herself. True or not, it’s a good reason for someone to hate her. WWE even used some very clever shots of Bayley to sew doubt in her heroic veneer. Another fun Easter egg (I did it again!) here is that Iyo’s background is green. In comic books, green is for heroes and purple is for villains. I’m not sure if this is purposeful or not, but even unintentional, it’s effective in showing how Iyo sees herself as the hero, not the villain.


Bayley attacking Iyo Sky during a photo shoot had the possibility, and likelihood, of falling into an eye-roll of a segment. But the way they shot it made it feel completely new and fresh. We saw Bayley throwing c-stands and light panels. We saw the crew breaking up the fight, versus recognizable wrestlers turned staffers. They even cut to a security camera for added realism and behind-the-scenes grit. Very well done, WWE. They took a lemon and turned it into lemon meringue pie. Delicious. I actually hate lemon meringue pie, but I loved this segment. One might even call it…Progressive. You’re welcome, Corey Graves. I just saved you 6 seconds.


What an entrance by Jade Cargill! At first, I thought I was watching a Christmas-themed episode of “Star Trek,” but all of my cynical criques melted away when her Greek God-like silhouette entered the frame, and graced us with greatness. They made her seem like a HUGE deal. I haven’t seen an entrance with such high production value since Bobby Roode’s first NXT “Glorious” entrance. And that doesn’t hold a candle to this. I feel like I just witnessed WWE’s first IMAX entrance. It’s head-and-shoulders above everything else. I really hope Cargill’s in-ring skills have leveled up enough to live up to this. I’m skeptical, but for now, wow. Just…wow. She just oozes stardom.


I found Jade Cargill’s promo very timid. The confidence in her entrance, juxtaposed with her showing on the mic, were like night and day. I thought she came off scripted, nervous and grammatically incorrect. She literally said “We have one of the best female roster (not rosters) in the world.” I’m a stickler for good grammar, but if you’re confident and engaging, I can overlook it to a certain degree. This feels like someone just turned on all the lights in the subway while the mice are trying to hide. It stands out like a sore thumb. Jade’s presentation, at least right now, feels like a whole lot of sizzle, and not nearly enough steak. This kind of reminds me of a delicious-looking bag of chips that you open and realize half of it was just air. It’s deflating (literally). Also, where was the mission statement? Why are you here? What do you want? What’s next? Nope, just a big old “Here I am” and the low-hanging fruit of an X-Men reference, because she and Storm both have cool white hair. I feel like I just spent thousands of dollars to see Aerosmith, and got nothing but a cover band. Dakota Kai said it well a few moments later with “What has she done besides stand there.” Hopefully this peeves Jade, and leads to her first match. Maybe we’ll even get a run in to help Bianca BeLair tonight if Damage CTRL gets involved.


This backstage segment with Nick Aldis made me notice something that I can’t unsee. Nick Aldis’ eyes have an early, bad CGI-vibe to them, where you feel like he’s never really looking at anything specific, even when he’s talking to A.J. Styles. I can’t unsee those spaced out “Polar Express” eyes, and now, neither can you. Apologies and you’re welcome, all at once.


During their entrance, The Street Profits totally bounced a dance check. If you go back and watch it again, Montez Ford looks like he’s cuing Angelo Dawkins for a synchronized dance move, and then they get hilariously out of sync. I love these guys too much to really care, but it’s still a funny moment that’s worth checking out. We don’t like to see our favorite athletes in blooper reels, but we also enjoy blooper reels, so have some cake and eat it too. On a side note, I’m not convinced Montez is actually human. As evidenced by his nonchalant flip over the ropes to start the match, the guy does things homo-sapiens shouldn’t be able to do. He’s like watching a ‘90s cartoon where gravity doesn’t seem to be a factor. If the laws of physics were enforceable, he’d be looking at 50 to life.


Angelo Dawkins, unless you have a tea party planned for after the match, do you really need to wear those emasculating, British gentleman gloves? I half expect you to lift your pinky while sipping out of that party cup. I did appreciate your brutal launching of Grayson Waller into the announcing team, but I would have liked it more if you did it without looking like you have equestrian practice after. Let’s all give a special (un)welcome back to the dainty Dawkins gloves. On a side note, seeing Waller fly into the frame of the on-board announce table cam was hilariously moment-enhancing. I love these behind-the-scenes, fourth wall-breaking moments. It just makes everything seem more real, like WWE got lucky enough to catch something on camera. Glorious, and I mean the good kind, not the empty, entrance-only Bobby Roode kind.


If you could condense and bottle Montez Ford into an energy drink, it would make Red Bull look like sleep gummies. This guy is so fast, the WWE cameras almost can’t keep up with him, and it makes for a very effective blink and you’ll miss-aura to his matches. I honestly think Usain Bolt would even tell this guy to slow down a bit.


How can you have a ladder qualifying match with the insanely aerial Street Profits, and cop them out with an ending that leads to the defined down team of Austin Theory and Grayson Waller? How can you have a ladder match at WrestleMania, and deprive us of the human highlight reel, Montez Ford, in that environment? I feel like someone just took me to a 3D movie, but they were all out of glasses. I’m more disappointed than J.D. McDonagh at an autograph signing. I’ll give WWE credit for giving Karrion Kross and A.O.P. an impactful moment to elevate them, but like, I hate them right now. That seems to be the point, and it’s working, but I’m angry. Really angry. Doesn’t WWE see that these guys are money in a ladder match?! Also, why does the aerial cam (during the double power bomb) always look out of focus? At least the blurriness of the camera matches the foresight of WWE for the WrestleMania ladder match. On yet another side note (It’s a disease people), Kross’ scary face looks like an excited adolescent, who got an N64 on a 1996-Christmas morning. Man, what a festive night of Christmas metaphors we are having. Twas the night before Christmas, and outside the ring, betrayal was brewing, from Rey’s own offspring. Nice promo package recapping Legado del Fantasma’s feud with the L.W.O., and Dominik Mysterio’s unexpected involvement. This guy couldn’t have more heat if he bathed in a volcano, while eating fireballs, in front of a space heater.


Why does everyone in WWE chew gum? And why does it look so cool? Seeing Dominik Mysterio and Santos Escobar chewing gum in slow motion, after ambushing Rey Mysterio, has made me realize gum is the new 1950’s cigarette, but with less teeth rotting and death. Forget the ice cream bars (sorry C.M. Punk), it’s time for some WWE-themed bubble gum. Taste the action! Chew the excitement! Blow the…get your mind out of the gutter. This is the PG-era folks.


Did Santos Escobar really just say he was hoping for Rey Mysterio to get an infection and an amputation?? This guy plays scum like a violin. He’s so in tune with his evilness and I love it. If we’re sticking with the Christmas theme tonight, Santos is like a meaner version of the Grinch, who never had a change of heart and returned the gifts to the Who’s of Whoville. Instead, his heart grows 3 sizes smaller every week. In counter-productive news, Santos still has an L.W.O. tattoo on his hand. I get that tattoos are forever, even if you turn evil, but they should figure out a faux-way to cover that while he’s a bad guy. Permanent decisions aside, I really like this synergy between evil factions, and having Dominik cross-pollinate with Legado del Fantasma out of their shared hatred for a geriatric luchador (their words). The heat Dom gets is unparalleled. He gets more boos than a Madea Halloween movie, and that is a double entendre worth reading twice. I’ll wait…annnnd you’re welcome.


I thought for sure when Rey Mysterio challenged Santos Escobar and Dominik Mysterio to a tag match, that Carlito would be the obvious choice. Hell, the crowd chanted for him, and they cut to a closeup of him. Revealing Dragon Lee as the newest member of the L.W.O. was a welcome surprise, and makes for an exciting LuchaMania match. I wish WWE had done more to build up Lee over the last few weeks so this hit harder, but we need to take what we can get. You don’t always get a great movie trailer for a great movie. I’ll always take a crappy trailer for a stellar cinematic experience over the opposite of that. I’m looking at you, “Argylle”.


Zelina Vega’s outfit tonight looks like a gothic cosplay of Milla Jovovich in “The 5th Element.” I don’t have any clever lead-ins for that, or witty puns to end on, but I had to say it…errr write it. Let’s just pretend I didn’t mention it. Moving on! This still isn’t as overrated as Naomi having an E.S.T. ribbon in her hair, that she revealed like it was something impressive. In reality, it just felt like a little kid doing her best Mercedes Monet, hair letter mimicry. Naomi, if you didn’t spend so much money on glowing make-up (addiction is no joke) you’d have enough leftover to have letters dyed into your hair like a C.E.O.


This backstage, inter-group chat with The Judgment Day felt like I was watching a straight to DVD movie. The acting was bad. The narrative was loose and incoherent. It served less purpose than noise-canceling headphones in a library. This feels like a Judgment Day cover band. I’m going to reserve judgment here, but I’m not optimistic about their direction right now. I haven’t been this down on the faction since they poisoned the well by adding J.D. McDonagh to the fold. This segment was not worth coming in late to the tag match between New Catch Republic and L.W.O.


Why does Angel Garza’s hair flow with such unnatural, angelic grace? Is his pony tail actually a chemical treated collection of hair extensions? The physics of it defy all follicle logic. It makes about as much sense as surgically separating Hum from Berto. I heard those guys are friends with Tom and Nick Mysterio actually.


This is a completely irrelevant thing to point out, but Tyler Bate’s boots make him look like he’s wrestling in socks. I think it waters down what little ferocity there is to his demeanor. The guy is already about as intimidating as a “Paw Patrol” villain. Turning him into a live action Mr. Socko does him no favors. Bate has all the skills in the world…and none of the boots in the closet.


The recap of The Rock’s brutal beat down of Cody Rhodes was good until they showed the “We’re off the air now guys” bit. The Rock hit Cody once with the belt, and we heard him scream. Then, in an attempt to make it seem like he did it three times, they showed it from 3 angles, but with the exact same, jarringly repetitive yell played successively. This isn’t fooling anyone, WWE. Why not just stick with the truth and have it be one brutal hit and subsequent, guttural yell of pain.


Paul Heyman is a genius. Having him sell The Rock’s beat down of Cody Rhodes as being done at the order of the Tribal Chief, is brilliant storytelling. I feel like The Rock couldn’t bring himself to say this himself, but it was
very smart on Heyman’s part to reinvigorate the alpha aura of Roman Reigns. I don’t think it was 100% effective, but it was a very smart move nonetheless. Also, is anyone else distracted by the fact that it looks like Heyman didn’t have a pocket square handy, and instead shoved an entire tie into the front pocket of his jacket? Just me? Shame on me for thinking he can’t get this over. After all, this is the guy who made saying his name, a quotable catchphrase. I love where this segment ended up, with Solo Sikoa being ordered to take out Jey Uso next Friday. This is great long-form storytelling. Also, I didn’t know Solo could talk and I’m pleasantly surprised at the soft gravitas to his voice. “I’ll miss you” was a nice touch. I still worry about Solo getting really bad arthritis from using his thumb as a weapon week after week, but I digress. As long as he doesn’t plan on becoming a movie critic after WWE, (or maybe if he does?) he should be fine.


It was a nice touch by A.J. Styles to ignore his usual entrance choreography. Heels don’t need to cater to the crowd. He looks angry, determined and vicious. He’s playing his role to a T. Dare I say, his actions are in-style with being a heel? No. No, I don’t dare say that, because it sounds immature. And I’m nothing if not a mature adult. On a side note, Styles looks like he ate a few burritos before the match, and is prairie dogging some regret as he awkwardly marches to the ring. He’s angry at himself, the food truck, and burritos for being intoxicatingly delicious. I also loved seeing Styles go after the cameraman, thinking he was L.A. Knight, complete with a live feed from his camera. It was a nice touch of realism that was quickly ruined by a faux-fan getting arrested, who couldn’t act his way out of a high school play. Why are we playing “Where’s Waldo?” anyway?


WWE spoiled the L.A. Knight security disguise during the A.J. Styles segment. Their camera angle on Knight revealed their cards too fast. They showed their hand when they pulled out wide, before he had a chance to cleverly reveal his ruse. They should have had him on camera for a lot of this segment, only to have him remove his disguise from behind Styles, ideally, in a slightly out of focus shot, so it doesn’t feel purposeful. I feel like someone just spoiled my surprise party by walking in before me. Special props to the emo wig that hid the megastar from us. It looks like it was purchased at the same Hot Topic as Zelina Vega’s outfit.


At the top of the main event, Corey Graves was hyping next weekend’s slew of events and mistakenly said NXT Stand and Deliver is Sunday, contradicting the (correct) graphic that said Saturday. I don’t know why I find these mistakes entertaining, but I do. I think WWE is just so buttoned up with clarity and effective storytelling, that when they make a mistake, it stands out more than Seth Rollins at…well…any location you can imagine.


Jade Cargill coming to the rescue of Bianca BeLair (from Damage CTRL) and Naomi was mildly effective. Her moves felt powerful, if not a bit clunky. I don’t think it was enough to fully redeem her weak mic work earlier, but it’s a glittery step in the right direction. A step in the wrong direction though, is not having the women’s tag titles being defended at WrestleMania. The Kabuki Warriors deserve a slot on the dual night card. Maybe they’re setting up Bianca and Naomi to challenge for the titles, and once Dakota gets involved, Jade does the same, equalizing the odds and helping her friends win gold. You’re welcome, WWE. I just played booker to a T (see what I did there?).

I’ll be back for the final Raw before WrestleMania, where the non-final final boss tries to show Cody Rhodes who’s boss… again.

RECOMMENDED NEXT: WWE SMACKDOWN HITS & MISSES (3/29): Lack of Cody, Roman, Seth, and Bloodline, plus Iyo Sky promo, Jade Cargill segment, Logan Paul’s interference

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