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SmackDown commits itself to burning down “the house that AJ Styles built”

AJ Styles
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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Results: John Cena & Nikki Bella defeated James Ellsworth & Carmella; Alexa Bliss & Mickie James defeated Becky Lynch & Natalya; Randy Orton defeated AJ Styles (for a spot in the WrestleMania WWE Championship match)
  • Ellsworth’s reaction to finally being tagged in is pretty priceless, especially after all his bluster beforehand. He calls himself “the mack daddy of SmackDown! Live,” which somewhat makes up for him wrestling in anything other than a bedazzled version of early Thuganomics era Cena gear (like Renee Young basically begged for last week).
  • It’s no surprise The Miz is great on commentary during the mixed tag match, but he’s on a whole other level—as usual—on Talking Smack. Sometimes I think we just don’t deserve Mike or Maryse Mizanin. Because we don’t.
  • The Tag Team Champions and their current rivals don’t make an appearance on SmackDown. Again. Yet for the second week in a row, Curt Hawkins has a role on the show despite only being fodder for Dean Ambrose in his Intercontinental Championship feud with Baron Corbin. This is a very segment-heavy episode of SmackDown, so there’s really no reason American Alpha/Usos couldn’t have found a way onto a show like this. They easily could’ve included even a little bit of them in one of the beats where Ambrose was looking for Corbin, maybe even just in passing. While there’s been plenty of discussion in the past about how SmackDown started to work when the former head writer of NXT moved up to the blue brand, I’d say the best lesson SmackDown could learn for its time management issues comes from NXT Redemption. That seminal piece of WWE programming became really good about economizing during its backstage segments, often hitting multiple beats in the span of one segment. Try being a little more wild and young, SmackDown.
  • But as inconsequential as Curt Hawkins has been in this return run in WWE (unlike in his NXT Redemption run), that doesn’t mean he deserves to have Mauro Ranallo constantly botch his name nor does it mean JBL should be allowed to openly say “who cares?” when it comes to that mistake.
  • Last week, Orton committed actual arson. This week, Corbin assaults Ambrose with a lead pipe, which at least falls into the professional wrestling realm of attack. Then he crushes him with the fork of a forklift. That’s attempted murder, and it all begins with Corbin taking a hostage (the security guard) in order to hurl the man at Ambrose. Get your house in order, Shane and Bryan. Crime doesn’t pay.
  • Alexa Bliss, queen of the promo ring. Even if a “Beclaration” is clearly superior to a “Blissertation” and the crowd sadly is dead when it’s just her speaking. I especially appreciate her “What had happened was—” to Mickie James, but the “worst there is…” diss to Natalya was also a long time coming. As was Mickie dropping Alexa, because according to Mickie: “I am my only real friend.” Never change, Mickie James.
  • I really hope a version of La Luchadora shows up for the WrestleMania SmackDown Women’s Championship match. Any available woman on the brand, Bryan said. Make it happen.
  • Styles versus Orton is of course a very good match, and it’s made even better by the commentators really hyping it up. Because it really is a big deal and a first time ever dream match. Not just on SmackDown! Live but on WWE television and in wrestling in general. It’s the stuff of Wild Card Finals. Styles trying to take out Orton’s leg (“Gimme that leg!”); Orton Full Nelson Slamming Styles into next week; Styles out-chinlocking Orton. But that finish, with Styles’ Phenomenal Forearm fake-out and Orton playing possum to ultimately get to the RKO? Glorious.
  • Now to get down to it: This week’s SmackDown is a huge piece of evidence in the case for why WWE made the wrong choice in even putting AJ Styles anywhere near this Wyatt storyline in the first place. As much as people like Orton, the opening promo has Bryan and Shane crowd source to see who they think should be in the WrestleMania match against Bray Wyatt, Styles so very clearly gets the louder reaction. (The same goes for in the actual match.) So of course they pretend it’s 50/50, just like the finish to Styles/Harper in the battle royal. Also, the hypocrisy of Daniel Bryan taking the side of the sanctity of the Royal Rumble winner exclusively getting their title match at WrestleMania is apparently lost on everyone involved. Plus, since WWE still sees Styles as heel in this situation, Shane is the one who wants him to be in the title match (so Styles is in the wrong for his eventual sore loser reaction). But they’re also still ignoring that AJ Styles is owed his title rematch “at a later date,” which is what Shane also promised. Obviously, there are weeks to get to where we’re going, but this detour only highlights how disappointing it will be that Styles won’t be in the title match (and it’s still up in the air if Luke Harper will either) and that he won’t be in it because he has to face Shane McMahon. But accepting that fate, it’s not petty fantasy booking to say WWE could have simply followed through with Luke Harper beating AJ Styles and then Styles becoming angry with Shane for not giving him his promised rematch: They’re literally the most logical storytelling choices and decisions that could still fill up the weeks to WrestleMania.
  • At least we got the Styles/Harper and Styles/Orton matches out of all this.

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