Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Smackdown Live: John Cena returned (for an episode) to put over Becky Lynch and entertain us with his prehensile haircut. Also Big E dressed up like Baby New Year, and Sonya Deville came up with a fun new way to give herself brain damage.
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Here’s this week’s Best and Worst of WWE Smackdown Live for January 8, 2019.
Best: Daniel Bryan’s WWE Career Comes Full Circle
Way back in 2010, only ten weeks into his WWE run, Daniel Bryan was forced to chug a souvenir cup full of soda as part of an “obstacle course” to prove his worth as a superstar (?) on the first season of the game show version of NXT. In 2019, he’s opening Smackdown as the WWE Champion, cutting a unique and creative promo that features him explaining why soda’s bad for you, and throwing a souvenir cup full of it onto a nearby fan. He’s no longer wild nor young, and I love it.
You probably read too much about how happy The New Daniel Bryan makes me, but I can’t say it enough. This week’s show opens with him just roaming around the arena, finding things to make himself madder and madder about how pro wrestling crowds work. I FEEL SEEN.
I loved every second of this, from his boring grey t-shirt with a tree in the pocket to him pelting a guy in the head with a half-eaten hot dog and the guy SELLING IT. Like Daniel Bryan himself might say, that’s a good plant.
And of course we have Bryan’s march down the arena steps, where he stops and yells shit like “IMPOTENT, CHANGE IT,” in the face of a guy in an Undisputed Era t-shirt. “I AM NAWT! I AM NAWT, WOO!” I especially liked the guy who got called “submissive,” because the look on his face was totally, “hey man, don’t knock it ’til you try it.” This all culminates with an attack from R-Truth, who got beaten down by Bryan two shows ago for trying to spread holiday cheer and is out for revenge. So now we get another week of the WWE Champion (1) actually showing up, (2) actually wrestling competitive matches, and (3) putting over someone new every week, whether they win or not.
The match with Truth was short, but it was what it needed to be: the WWE Champion facing and defeating a lower-level opponent who has either gotten the opportunity via a personal grudge or winning a bunch of matches in a row. Technically, at least if you’re counting the Mixed Match Challenge, Truth had/did both. Truth looks good, but he’s facing the WWE Champion and rightful heir to Best in the World, so he loses. Clean. Because sometimes the bad guy is the best wrestler. LOVE YOU, LIL GRANOLA BOI.
After the match, The Real AJ Styles attacks Bryan and tries to kill him with a steel chair, because somehow they’ve maintained two wonderful bits of continuity:
- the fact that AJ Styles has the mental processing power of a can of tuna and can be completely psychologically broken down by threats like, “we had an AFFAIR,” or, “I’m gonna harass your FAMILY in my SPARE TIME,” or, “YOU AREN’T AS COOL AS YOU USED TO BE,” and
- the fact that even when he’s the heeliest heel in the world, the McMahon-Helmsley Facgime is never going to stop targeting Daniel Bryan and trying to make his life miserable
Later, Kayla Braxton (wearing Zapp Brannigan’s uniform) finds Bryan backstage and asks him about the attack. Bryan does what any smart heel should do; namely, point out a real thing that was done wrong to him — Styles attacked him from behind, with iffy motivations at best — and keeps twisting it around on its own logic until he’s screaming about how great he is and how he’s gonna save the planet via telling wrestling fans not to buy novelty gloves at wrestling shows.
I really do hope Bryan is WWE Champion forever. GIMME THAT SUSTAINABLE VEGAN BELT ALREADY.
Best (Mostly): The Usos Have NOT Pinned The Smackdown Tag Team Champions!
You won’t see any of it in the WWE Fan Nation video, but Smackdown was full of very good wrestling matches (attn: Raw) in addition to the Entertainment segments. The Usos faced The Bar for a chance at the Smackdown Tag Team Championship, setting up one of my least favorite common booking tropes: we’ll give you a match against the champion, and if you’re able to beat the champion, we’ll give you a match against the same champion. This is where the BLANK HAS PINNED THE BLANK CHAMPION running gag comes from, because it’s almost always the most obvious part of a show.
Two bits of good news here. One; any combination of The Usos, The Bar, and The New Day in tag team matches that get more than two minutes are going to be fun to watch, and worth your time. Two; there’s a pretty terrible sports-entertainment finish (which we’ll talk about in a second), but it was there to subvert the trope. The Usos get a match they’re obviously going to win to set up a title match at the Royal Rumble, and then they DON’T WIN IT! Because that happens sometimes! And when you illustrate that it can happen that way sometimes, it informs all future matches with similar stipulations, and your brain thinks, “maybe they won’t do the obvious thing here.” And that makes watching shows a more engaging experience, because you aren’t sitting there scrolling through your phone because you know how it’s going to end! Hooray!
The actual finish they do here is pretty dumb, though. Mandy Rose interrupts the match, wearing a towel, to ask the homie James Uso if she left her “tiny gold shorts and her tiny gold top … in his hotel room?” The distraction causes them to lose, and sets up an hilarious backstage followup where Naomi shows up dressed like the Yellow Submarine and spikes her high-heeled shoes to instigate an attack. My favorite part of that is Mandy removing her towel to reveal she’s wearing her wrestling gear underneath, as though we thought she’d walked from the hotel to the arena and out onto the stage in just a towel because she only owns one push-up bra and one pair of booty shorts. But see? Even the “worst” parts of the “best” here are pretty good, because if they aren’t actually good, they can be enjoyed on some ironic level.
Speaking of that, the segments flow into each other really fluidly on this episode, and while we’re dealing with Mandy Rose TOWELGATE, we’re also watching The Miz head to the ring and challenge The Bar for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship, because his new partner is a McMahon and he rightfully assumes the McMahons can just book themselves into title matches. Miz understands how this job works better than most. Sheamus lays him out with a Brogue Kick.
The followup to THAT is another great bit where Shane McMahon shows up in a doo-doo brown leather jacket and questions why Miz went out there and got kicked in the face on his behalf. Miz, who is weirdly the top actual babyface on the show right now, gives him another pep talk and convinces him to nut up and help him fight The Bar at the Royal Rumble. See? Miz was right. Shane can just book himself into a tag team championship match at the pay-per-view.
That’s what I love about this. Miz’s motivations and actions here clearly aren’t on the level, because he’s the Miz, but we aren’t sure exactly what they are. Is he setting Shane up for a long con just to kick his ass, or is he (more likely) manipulating a system he understands better than anyone to worm his way into title matches he doesn’t necessarily deserve, separating himself from Daniel Bryan completely, and emotionally manipulating a guy to get in close with the new active management?
Best: Let’s Call The Rey Mysterio And Mustafa Ali Team ‘Rufio’
I think my favorite part of Rey Mysterio finally bringing the Canadian Destroyer into the WWE Universe is Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas pulling a full-on headstand in the middle of it to adjust his positioning and set up the proper momentum.
In all seriousness, and without resorting to caps lock every three sentences, this ruled. I would be very into Ali and Mysterio as a regular, recurring tag team, as it would allow Rey to spotlight what he does best, keep him fresh without having to work a bunch of long singles matches (even though he can totally still go), and give a new guy with a similar but evolved moveset a rub. Associating the hot new high-flyer on the show with the most popular high-flyer ever is a good decision. Also a good decision: Andrade Almas winning, which should happen a lot more often than it does. If Almas isn’t one of the final four guys in the Royal Rumble this year, I’ll be shocked. Put good work in your best hands!
The only downside to this was the fact that we took a commercial break during the entrances, then took a LONGER commercial break in the middle of the match. There’s gotta be a better time to run that than the middle of your show’s most kinetic match.
Worst: Where’s The Lie
The only part of the show that totally didn’t work for me was the promo from Rusev, aside from Rusev saying he has the “body of 1000 Hemsworth brothers.” Even Larry? Is that even possible?
It’s one of those situations that is fine on paper, but doesn’t connect with me for a couple of glaring reasons. One is the thing I mentioned last week; Lana’s not a helpless valet Miss Elizabeth character, she’s often and regularly booked as a pro wrestler. She’s not booked as a good wrestler, but if she’s competed with Asuka and Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, why is falling off Nakamura’s back and taking one back bump enough to put her in like, critical condition for a week? Rusev’s out here cutting a promo “as a husband” like she’s dead. The other is that Nakamura’s telling the truth, in that he didn’t actually do anything to her. She jumped on his back, then Rusev kicked him and knocked her off. It’s not even debatable. Rusev’s just being irrational over a thing that shouldn’t have even hurt Lana that much to begin with.
Anyway, Rusev charges backstage to find Nakamura and gets jumped, and the Bulgarians are shocked to discover that the Japanese have allied with the Poles:
Jamie Noble and Adam Pearce come to Rusev’s aid, and now I really want to see Rusev/Noble vs. Nakamura/Pearce. But yeah, for a segment built around a heel playing “mind games” with a face, there isn’t much of a game, and not a lot to mind.
Best: Man At Arms
Finally we have a triple threat main event pitting Becky Lynch against Charlotte Flair and Carmella (Van Dale?) for a shot at Asuka and the Smackdown Women’s Championship at the Royal Rumble. Like always, the Smackdown women’s division goes hard and puts on a great show, with Lynch coming out on top via submission to fulfill the prophecy put forth by the pre-cogs at Main Event a couple of weeks ago.
This is one of those examples of WWE doing the “predictable” thing, which then conflicts with another predictable thing, so half of us are like “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING” and the other half’s like “WHY IS THIS NOT HAPPENING” and we get mixed up. A lot of armchair booking figured Becky Lynch dropped the title last month to set up the story that made the most sense to us: her winning the women’s Royal Rumble and deciding to challenge Ronda Rousey, her new blood rival, for the Raw Women’s Championship at WrestleMania. It also slotted Charlotte in nicely for a WrestleMania rematch with Asuka. But hey, just because a lot of us talked ourselves into thinking that made sense, it doesn’t mean that’s what the plan ever actually was.
So here’s the more likely reality: Becky Lynch vs. Asuka at the Royal Rumble is going to be GREAT (plus one plus one plus one), Carmella’s still got the drama of being the #30 entrant in her Royal Rumble and having an ongoing beef with Becky and Charlotte over the respect she feels she’s entitled to, and Charlotte Flair can still waltz into and out of title shots whenever she wants, because we started calling her the Female Roman Reigns for a reason. Ronda vs. Becky at WrestleMania can still happen, or the more WWE-friendly Ronda vs. Becky vs. Charlotte triple threat, or maybe even Ronda vs. Becky vs. Charlotte vs. Asuka in a fatal four-way. The only true, confirmed fact here is that if there’s any division in WWE we should trust to give us a series of good matches and an end result we can be happy about, it’s the Smackdown women’s.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
I do love how Carmella kept using the Super Kick as a “Charlotte go the fuck away button.”
The Real Birdman
“How come you guys didn’t sell that??” – Charlotte lying on the floor on the outside
Normally when you go for a moonsault on one wrestler there’s a 80% chance of it landing. But Charlotte’s not normal and she’s got a 10% chance at best. Then you add in a second wrestler and somehow her odds drastically go down. If you take her 10% chance and double that multiplied by the normal 80% odds factoring that she’ll use 25% of her bodyweight, she’s got a 4% chance of landing that moonsault perfectly. Numbers don’t lie and they spell an awkward sell for you before commercial break.
Shane should have eaten 1/3 of that Brogue Kick.
Jimmy is playing the Bellas music in his mind “You can look but you can’t touch, you can look but you can’t touch”
Hulk: mean gene loved entertai….
Bryan: MENE GENE WAS IMPOTENT!!!
“My name is Alexander Rusev. You killed my wife. Prepare to die.”
I heard rumors that the clangy pipes are unhappy at WWE and are checking out AEW
As long as The New Daniel Bryan keeps The Old Brie Bella out of the ring, he’s the real hero.
Daniel coming through the crowd like
Considering Miz’s skin tone and Shane’s skin complexion, I couldn’t think of a more apt tag team name than White Leather
That’s it for Smackdown Live. As always, thanks for reading, drop a comment below to let us know what you thought of the episode, and share the column to help us out. See you next week!