OVER & UNDERS – WWE SMACKDOWN (4/12): Styles’ perfect hair, Voice of Cody’s victory, Sign of the Night, Heyman sees a Mouse, more

By Kevin Duncan, PWTorch contributor

Cody Rhodes


Well folks, I don’t know about you, but I have a massive wrestling hangover. As with any well-earned hangover, the only way to get rid of it is to give in to the vice more. So open your gullet, apologize to your liver, and take one more big swig of wrestling, because it’s time for the most overrated and under-appreciated moments from tonight’s Friday Night Smackdown.


I absolutely love this new WWE opener graphic, and even Paul Levesque’s raspy voice. He should do a deal with Calm. I’d listen to his voice rock me into a gritty sleep every night. That said, am I the only one that gets Heaven’s Gate vibes from this? I feel like this is one big ol’ serving of WWE Kool-aid. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m drinking it up. Tastes like money and good booking.


It’s been almost a week since WrestleMania. We already had our mandatory ‘Mania recap on Raw. We already gave Cody Rhodes his flowers. I get that we’re still going to give him a metaphorical fruit basket tonight, but do we really need another recap on Smackdown? I feel like they should be capped on recaps at a certain point. Don’t ask me to repeat myself. I won’t recap my point about capping recaps. Also, WWE is the capital of recaps, even though they should be capped on their recaps. But they did do a good job, so maybe they deserve a tip of the cap. I do wish I could stop myself. Unfortunately it’s a medical condition where puns have to leave my body or it causes me to fall ill, and literally none of that is true. Moving on.


Capping of recaps aside, I think Samantha Irvine really deserves props for what she added to Cody Rhodes’ win. Her choked up, voice-cracking delivery as she announced him as the new champ, is like the epic soundtrack to his victory. I could see that sound bite (that’s right I see sound) being used for years to come, and maybe ending up in a future WWE opener. It’s that good. It’s like Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts tandemly announced Cody as the winner. It’s pure Oscar-worthy cinema. That said, in the many recaps I’ve seen of Cody winning, and what I saw in person, it oddly looks like he’s a physical therapist working Roman Reigns’ tight triceps before delivering a third crossroads. I hope Roman has a nice heavy deductible. The Semi-Final Boss can afford it.


During Cody Rhodes’ entrance, they announced him as the Undisputed WWE Champion. I also noticed in the recap that Samantha Irvine (at WrestleMania) also said he was the new Undisputed WWE Champion. Are we doing away with the “Universal”, or are mistakes just contagious among ring announcers.


I have to say, WWE has raised the bar of their production quality so high the last several weeks, that when they phone it in a bit, it’s jarringly noticeable. This was one of the weaker shot entrances of Cody Rhodes. Where are the epic long shots, walking around the talent? What’s with all the cutting to different angles? This felt like the made for TV remake of an epic classic. We went from seeing Cody’s entrance in IMAX-worthy greatness, to the bargain DVD bin at Walmart.


Is it just me, or does that title on Cody Rhodes’ shoulder look extra sparkly? I don’t know if it’s the lighting, the suits he’s wearing, or they legitimately leveled up the title, but for some reason, it’s got more shimmer than a freshly waxed marble floor, covered in diamonds.


For some reason, it seems like they have the mics capturing the arena chants a little too loud. I feel like I’m trying to listen to Cody Rhodes talk over a crowd that can’t stop having side convos. This is giving me P.T.S.D. for when I ran for class president in 4th grade. Here’s a spoiler, it didn’t go well. But seriously, why not just turn it down? It makes people sound uninterested. Is this a new audio director? Does the production A-Team have Friday off after WrestleMania? This is supposed to be Cody-A-Clock and the production value is straight up amateur hour so far. The director in the production truck also has more cuts than a butcher shop tonight.


Okay now Cody Rhodes referred to himself as the Undisputed WWE Champion, sans universal. A few moments later, Corey Graves did the same, with a slight pause as he said it, as if making sure he got the wording perfectly right. I think the only thing universal now…is the crowd. A new era indeed. I for one am happy about this. Universal always sounded like overkill. We’re not fighting galactic battles here, as much as Cody loves “Star Wars”. I say good riddance. On a side note, I wouldn’t have minded another “this is awkward” chant when Cody used “overture” in a full sentence. Don’t go “Dawson’s Creek” on us and use big words just for the sake of using big words. If you don’t know the show I’m referencing, don’t go back and watch it. It holds a special place in every 90s kid’s heart, but it doesn’t hold up. Just google James Van Der Beek crying meme, and enjoy. Like a singular recap of WrestleMania, this is plenty.


Well, I may be happy that the “Universal” has been exercised from the title, but you know who isn’t? Zelina Vega. Judging by what she’s wearing tonight, she clearly just deboarded a galactic vessel of some sort, and plans on continuing her space adventure later. I wouldn’t be shocked if she leaves in a DeLorean tonight. To each their own, but WWE isn’t on SyFy anymore folks.


Okay so this first triple threat match is Santos “I hate the L.W.O. despite my hand tattoo” Escobar, Bobby “Lackluster Pop” Lashley, and L.A. Knight (yeah). I’m pulling for Escobar here, personally. Knight shouldn’t be sacrificed to Cody Rhodes, and they can’t risk him losing any support. Lashley is a face, though you wouldn’t know it from his crowd response. Santos has real heat and movie villain vibes. He’s a credible choice if they’re willing to run with him in this new era. It’s refreshing to see some new, evil blood making its way near the top of the card. In other news, Knight isn’t chewing gum tonight. It would seem his near-death, choking incident last week has learned him a lesson. I was hoping to make a joke about this being an over-the-hill match, with all men being over 40. I had it locked and loaded. Lashley is 47 (right?!). L.A. Knight is 41 (yeah). But always the heel, Santos Escobar had to go and be 39. Once again, thanks for ruining the fun, Santos.


In the hype package they did for Sami Zayn being in Montreal on Monday, they cut to both Sami and Chad Gable in front of digitally rendered backgrounds. I get that WWE has a new state of the art L.E.D. studio and they want to use it. I’ve seen it in person. It’s extremely impressive. But, they need to up their game with making the 3D backgrounds look more realistic. Right now it just looks like a cheesy green screen edit. This is like giving me a diamond-encrusted Prime necklace inside a Happy Meal box. Don’t cheapen your presentation when you have gold to build with.


I think it’s admirable that the all mighty, might he be almighty, Bobby Lashley is trying to get an entrance arm gesture over. In the age of Yeetism (and anti-Yeetism) it’s smart. That said, it’s falling flatter than Titus O’Neil in a rumble match.


I’m less impressed with Santos Escobar’s running double knee strikes in his match with L.A. Knight and Bobby Lashley, and more impressed with his whistling skills. Ignoring the fact that he’s carelessly telegraphing his move, it’s audibly impressive. It strikes a beautiful pitch and he even breaks out a brief but memorable little tune. I’ve always wanted to whistle like that. Thanks for reminding me of one of my failures in life. Once again, always the heel, Santos. Besides my vicarious jealousy, I’m really confused with how Knight telegraphs his move. He’s doing the clap that Kofi Kingston used to do before his finisher. Is Knight about to do a boom drop? I’d pay good money to see that…yeah.


Seeing Bobby Lashley go for a spear made me realize something. Too many people use the spear as a finisher. Roman Reigns, Goldberg, Bobby Lashley, Jimmy Uso, Jey Uso just to name a few. You’d think this is a Viking-themed show with all of these spears. But no, in fact, the only Vikings ON the show don’t use the spear. One of life’s great mysteries, like why wrestlers fight for oversized belts in their underwear. Regardless of redundancies. Bobby went for another spear. To paraphrase Brittany SPEARS, oops…I think he did it again. It may seem like I’m being pretty critical of WWE tonight, but in reality, their product is so good right now that I’m grasping for straws. So just go with it.


During the beatdown of Jimmy Uso by Tama Tonga, look in the background at Paul Heyman. Always the most entertaining man in the room, he’s standing on the bottom of the turnbuckle, like he just saw a mouse. It’s subtle and brilliant. I also love this layered storytelling with Solo Sikoa and Paul Heyman. Him saying that losing matters implies that he sees Roman Reigns as unworthy of the throne, beyond just excommunicating Jimmy. That’s a great match for a face-turned Reigns down the road. WWE is baking their storylines with more layers than a wedding cake. And unlike wedding cakes, when we revisit this in a year, it’ll still be delicious.


Watching Bron Breakker’s speed is inhuman. It’s so impressive to watch. I also think it’s smart to have him take down NXT upstarts like Cameron Grimes, instead of random jobbers. It gives young talent a chance to be seen, and Bron Breakker a more viable opponent to squash. I am a little worried that Bron is consuming too many of WWE’s favorite energy drink, C4. That thing has 300mg of caffeine in it. That’s 100mg more caffeine than Prime Energy has, which is being investigated for being a health risk. I guess it’s C4 because it might make your heart explode. Absurd amounts of caffeine aside, relax a little Bron. Don’t be so angry. It’s not healthy. I’m honestly worried he may be the first person to breakk his own heart (yes the extra k is on purpose). On a side note, I would love to see how Bron Breakker cuts a turkey at Thanksgiving. So much anger. So much meat. So much carnage.


It was a nice touch adding B-roll and dramatic music to A.J. Styles’ promo. But seriously, where are all the cutting-edge camera shots tonight? Where are the jaw-dropping fluid shots into the crowd? Where are the backstage segments that weave into other segments? Maybe they’re just waiting until after the draft to bring all of that back, but the absence of that production value is making me sad. I’m about to throw a Becky Lynch self-pity party if they don’t fix it soon. Unrelated, I’m pretty sure Styles just threatened to commit murder in that promo, but I digress.


The sign of the night has to go to the guy in the front row with “C.M. Punk was right”. I think The Young Bucks and Tony Kahn are starting to realize that spitting into the wind is going to hit you right back in the face. They had no justification to show that clip, and achieved nothing but a coerced chant for the superstar they fired. It was an admirable attempt to spin it into a storyline, but ultimately an empty misfire. But this is Smackdown, a show run by real bookers. So let’s stay on point.


Why oh why won’t the audio director turn down the crowd mics? All I hear is murmuring while Bailey is talking. It’s distracting. It waters down Bailey’s presentation, despite a hotter pop than Orville Redenbacher. Helen Keller would even say this audio is distracting, and she’s…deceased. So it would be SUPER hard for her to respond. Where’d you think I was going with that? Come on now. I have class. I don’t make tone-deaf jokes. Bailey looks like an emo Smurf tonight, but like I said, I have class.


Tiffany Stratton may come off as a bit extra at times, but tonight she glowed on the mic with a single burn, hot enough to roast a Jet-puffed factory. They make marshmallows if you’re unfamiliar. And now I’ve ruined the joke, like Naomi ruins entrances for letting it all go in for too long. Adult A.D.D. is in full effect tonight, folks. Where was I? Ah yes, Tiffy time. Tiffany burned Naomi with “She couldn’t win a title if it glowed in the dark.” That is a BRILLIANT line. I guess it IS Tiffy time. I wonder if Cody Rhodes’ new watch says the same. On a side note, the back of Naomi’s hair has so much streaked yellow, that she looks less like she’s cosplaying Mercedes Monè, and more like Big Bird defecated on her head. I’ve said for months that I’m above potty humor. Apparently I flushed all of that down the toilet. See what I did there?


Does it bother anyone else that Naomi can come out, jam out in the ring with Bailey, and compete against Tiffany Stratton when her husband, Jimmy Uso may be dead or paralyzed? Did you see the tears in Paul Heyman’s eyes? Why don’t you care, Naomi? All Jimmy wants is a high-five from The Bloodline, and the love of his wife. Apparently he’ll never get either. A few moments later she did allude to the fact that Tiffany shouldn’t mess with her tonight, if all nights. So maybe she does care but I’m not convinced. Back to The Bloodline. That comment “by orders of the tribal chief” from Tama Tonga to Paul Heyman outside of the trainer’s room, was absolute brilliance. That’s some “Knives Out”-level planting of mystery. Is Solo Sikoa the right hand man? Is he asserting himself as the new Tribal Chief? Is it The Rock? Has Roman Reigns, overcome by his own failure, relinquished the badass red necklace to Solo? Is Haku going to step in? He did get a shoutout by Heyman at The Hall of Fame. No matter the outcome, and I mean this, I love being confused. I’m leaned in and along for every step of this ride, even though I still can’t help but be concerned that Solo’s thumb must look like a shriveled up hot dog under that tape.


I dig this promo from the new tag champs, A-Town Down Under, but seeing clips from the WrestleMania ladder match with 6,342 participants, reminded me of something that bugged me about it. The belts were hanging on a golden hanger, like some kind of luxury laundromat. When Grayson Waller takes the titles down he looks like he’s pulling down a freshly pressed suit for some Saudi Arabian oligarch. I do think this promo did a ton of re-elevation for Austin Theory though. He needed this pick-me-up more than a toddler at a skate rink. I particularly liked Waller’s line “It’s like you’re allergic to not winning championships at WrestleMania.” Genius. That’s my favorite line since The Fashion Files said Randy Orton was allergic to sleeves.


I loved this promo with A-Town Down Under, until it ended with the cheesiest, 90s-afternoon, Disney-esq animated font I’ve ever seen. I feel like someone just gave me a filet mignon and then sprinkled Lucky Charms on it for added flavor. Nope. You ruined it. That’s the worst graphic I’ve seen since WWE went through a phase of having transcribed words pop up on screen as people cut promos backstage. Both were terrible, and I hate them. Many things in the creative world are subjective, but some things are just facts. That graphic is going to take these two down faster than a 100lb weight tied to their ankles in the Pacific Ocean. That’s a fact.


I love that WWE is touting its own undefeated streak of sellout crowds. It’s incredibly impressive, and in a world where you can visibly see empty seats at AEW shows, it’s doubly impressive, sometimes tripley. I know it’s completely unheard of for WWE to tout its own accomplishments, but this time, I think it’s worth it. Ya know, because they’ve NEVER EVER bragged about themselves before. EVER. But now we’re in the Paul “Triple H has Longest Name Ever” Levesque era. Anything can happen!


Right after their self-promotion of sellout streaks, they FINALLY gave us a money shot of walking through a hallway, and out into a jaw-dropping wide shot of a raving crowd. Where have you been all night, production value? Did you get stuck in traffic? This doesn’t make up for a night of visual mediocrity, but it’s a step in the right direction.


Okay, I’m sorry, but Chelsey Green should never be on a show where she isn’t announced by Samantha Irvine. It canon to her entrance now, and 99.9% of her aura. That announcement of her tonight just sounded sad without the valley girl-quality intro Samantha gives her. ChelSEY GuhReeeen. That’s the best typed impression I can do.


It’s nice seeing Jade Cargill and Bianca BelAir squash Chelsey Green and Piper Nivens. It’s smart and effective. Chelsey sells fear better than Blumhouse. But, Cargill’s matches are starting to feel like reruns. Cool entrance, taunt, a kick or two, finisher, and overly suggestive pantomiming while pinning her opponent. I’ve seen this episode way too many times. Squash matches are effective but can we mix it up a bit with some other moves? Storms aren’t all one size. They fluctuate in power and adaptability, in force, and elements. If she’s the storm, let her be the varietal force Mother Nature intended her to be.


I’ve finally figured out why Kevin Owens is so endearing. He’s literally the Deadpool of WWE. He breaks the fourth wall. He’s funny. He points out things that seem to be off-limits. I loved the segment of him making note of the great follow shots lately (but not tonight), and then taking the mic and doing one. Nice cheap pop for taking a Detroit Tigers belt, and the subtle shove of C.M. Punk shirts off the table is a nice Easter egg for later. Special shoutout to my second favorite line of the night, courtesy of Mr. Owens, “I like tigers.” Honorable mention of “Jamie take this mic. Bruce hit my music.” That, followed by a walk out to the arena was smoother than Jazz at a New Orleans wedding.


I’m enjoying this match between A.J. Styles, Kevin Owens, and Rey Mysterio, but something is really bugging me about it. A.J. Styles has all the skills in the world. He has the moveset, the physique, the athleticism, the cool entrance music, even a cool southern accent. Does he really need to have the coolest hair in the world too? It’s not fair, A.J. Leave something for the rest of us. If you grow that out another 20 years, even cousin It is going to feel like a scrub. I don’t know if he chemically straightened it or what, but it’s like his hair is trained on how to take bumps. Every Styles match should be considered a tag team match, because his hair is doing half of the work.


I have to give the move of the night to Rey Mysterio, Kevin Owens, and A.J. Styles for the triple stacked German suplex. That was crazier than Amanda Bynes at an “All That” reunion…or anywhere really. And that move was topped by the Super Styles Clash with Mysterio, onto Kevin Owens. Super innovative, edgy, and exciting. I like to think this is what it was like the first time someone realized taking the handlebars off of a scooter created a skateboard.

This was a way more important show than I was expecting tonight, setting up multiple layers to explore. They could have coasted through this as an inconsequential episode before the draft, but man oh man did they set the proverbial table for quite a feast. There are so many seeds that have been planted, and I’m really unclear and excited to see where it all goes. We have a buffet of storylines to dine on. Nice consistency and long-form storytelling with each show leading into the next. I’m curious to see how the draft shakes things up. I’ll be back Monday to get Raw with you.


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