John Cena and The Miz: The verbal showdown here was great work by both men. The Miz went through the litany of sins that everyone throws at Cena: he holds down and buries other talent, he’s a part-timer, etc. He did exactly what a heel should do, which is exaggerate and commit to half-truths throughout the promo. As good as he is, Cena was electric on the mic as he has been for the past year. He ran down The Miz rather harshly. He said that if really practiced “the dark arts” as people claim, he wouldn’t be in the ring with The Miz; he would be in the ring with The Undertaker preparing to wrestle him at Wrestlemania. He said The Miz was a guy named Mike who shortened his surname and stole The Rock’s electricity. Then he stole Jericho’s gimmick. Then he stole Ric Flair’s figure-four leglock. Now, Cena says, he’s been reduced to plagiarizing what AJ Styles has been saying about Cena for the past six months. He ended by saying that he might not be in the ring with The Undertaker, but if The Miz comes at him again, then he’s “a dead man.”
Maryse then stopped Cena from exiting the ring and running him down for his “ego” before slapping him. Cena tells her she made a big mistake and immediately Nikki Bella’s music hits at which point, Miz and Maryse cleared the ring.
This segment doesn’t necessarily make this a must-see match, but it does bode well for the mic work for both men en route to this match that few fans want to see.
Cena and Miz highlights
Baron Corbin and Dean Ambrose promo: Dean was fine in this promo; he was funny and moderately irreverent as always. When Baron Corbin’s face hit the Titantron though, that’s when things got bad. Scripting Corbin is destroying him. His natural persona on previous Talking Smack episodes works perfectly for him: a bruiser who doesn’t feel the need to be friends with the people he works with. It makes sense. But when he’s delivering lines such as, “You like pain…and I like to give pain,” it comes off as flat and stale. Like Reigns and Strowman, he needs to talk less and kick ass more. That’s what has gotten him over.
Ambrose and Corbin promo
Randy Orton burns Bray Wyatt’s compound and the remains of Sister Abigail with it: This is a difficult segment to write about due to how embarrassing and mishandled it was. Bray is cutting his standard “I’m a god” promo when Randy appears on the Titantron dressed in black and standing in Bray’s compound, replete with maggots on the trash-filled floor and mystical rocking chair. He tells Wyatt that this evil place was “not his.” Once he thought, “When you can’t beat them, join them,” but when it’s not working out anymore, then “screw them.” Then he dosed the cabin with gasoline as Bray cried and pleaded in the middle of the ring. Then he set the cabin on fire as Bray gesticulated wildly and threw himself around like a stereotypical grieving widow.
The number of elements of this segment that were bad and cringe-worthy were numerous:
1) The filming – The way the Orton segment was shot is the first problem. They used dolly zooms to reinforce Orton’s biggest dramatic lines. The zooms were so over-the-top that it made the effect almost comical.
2) The scripting – Orton has never been the bad actor. He can’t handle long promos that well, and the language given to him in this segment did not fit his character at all.
3) The timing – The timing of Orton’s turn feels rushed – just in time for Wrestlemania! If this was the plan all along, then it was never going to be any good. Orton has never felt like he actually belonged with the Wyatts to the viewer.
4) The turn itself – The fans in the arena had to be bored (and it sounded like it). Here they sat, watching Orton on film talking and Bray in the ring reacting. This is less than riveting action for a live show, and it was less than riveting for a television audience as well. If Randy would have turned on Bray in the ring with an RKO, the pop would have at least been strong for that moment because it would have been a moment. This instead was an long, unwieldy, poorly-scripted segment that left some mild “Randy” chants at the end of the show, but little-to-no heat.
5) The heel/face dynamic – Bray has never been a strong heel character. Many have discussed and dissected Bray having a babyface entrance with his “fireflies.” He has also been booked horribly for years, which crowds typically sympathize with. Randy gets large reactions for the RKO and mild reactions for everything else. Vince McMahon was a heel, and seeing Steve Austin harm his property and menace him was something an audience could get behind. Seeing Randy Orton in 2017 burn the remains of a woman that a semi-heel that the crowd wants to cheer is not something an audience can get behind. Much like Bayley and Seth Rollins recently, WWE seems to be confusing what makes a babyface and what makes a heel.
6) Weakening the champion – Having your WWE World Champion cry in the middle of the ring is a bad idea in general and a heat-killing idea in the specific here. Even if somehow Bray comes out of this a babyface, which probably will not be the case, he can’t be considered a strong babyface when every promo package for this match will have him sobbing in the middle of a ring.
Becky Lynch versus Mickie James in a two-out-of-three falls match: Mickie took the first with a DDT, or a Mickie-DT as Mauro Ranallo called it. Becky took the second with a roll-up, and then took the third, even after attempted interference from Alexa Bliss, by submission with the Disarmer. The match wasn’t bad per se, but the most confusing aspect here is that they gave the two top female workers on Smackdown a total of approximately eight minutes for a best of three match. When Ziggler and Apollo Crews are having a chair match on the same show, these women certainly deserve more time. Natalya and Nikki Bella were given nearly sixteen minutes last week, for Christ’s sake.
Mickie James and Becky Lynch highlights
AJ Styles versus Luke Harper – winner goes to challenge Bray Wyatt in the “main event” of Wrestlemania: Why is this #1 contenders match for the “main event” of Wrestlemania (which will never be the actual main event) in the middle of the show? Again, this was not exactly a bad match, but given the stakes, it was relatively short. There was yet another controversy with Styles pinning Harper with Harper’s foot on the rope. Shane McMahon immediately came down and restarted the match, much to the chagrin of AJ Styles (which begs the question, why didn’t McMahon or Bryan restart the match last week?). Styles is outside the ring arguing with Shane when Harper goes for a superkick; Styles dodges and Shane gets kicked instead. AJ then goes on to pin Harper again with a springboard 450 splash. The match ends with AJ apparently going to Wrestlemania facing Bray Wyatt, but given that McMahon versus Styles has been rumored for a month, one can’t help but feel as if this is far from over. I haven’t read about a single person who wants that match, but the McMahons are egotistical enough to see this as an honor for AJ.
Styles and Harper highlights
Dolph Ziggler faces Apollo Crews in a Chairs Match: This is the last match of the show, and like the other matches, it was okay. Seeing a fiery Apollo Crews was a little refreshing and seeing a mean Ziggler has helped his blandness. That meanness was on display when he tripped Crews’s throat into a propped-up chair, then atomic dropped him on it for extra effect for the pin. However, neither man has any heat at all. No one cares about Ziggler, and even worse, they care even less about the babyface Apollo Crews. Having Crews get beat yet again is hopefully a sign they are going to rethink that character. Crews is a solid performer who was called up from NXT too soon, probably to fill Vince’s desire for a black babyface.
Ziggler and Crews highlights
The Final Analysis
This was the second week in a row that Smackdown was a poor show. Part of this is stemming from them having to build to the brand’s Wrestlemania matches, but even then, that doesn’t account for all of it. The decisions about how is getting air time, how long matches are being given, and how stars are being booked is confusing for a show that has been deliberate and buzzworthy for the past seven months.