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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

SmackDown Live keeps the focus in ring before Money In The Bank

Illustration for article titled iSmackDown Live/i keeps the focus in ring before iMoney In The Bank/i
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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: Breezango and the New Day defeat the Colons and the Usos; Naomi defeats Tamina; Charlotte defeats Natalya; A.J. Styles, Sami Zayn, and Shinsuke Nakamura defeat Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, and Kevin Owens
  • The SmackDown tag team renaissance has been a joy, and four teams get the opening half-hour to show off their stuff. The New Day are completely revitalized by the brand switch and the time away from TV. The Usos continue to build themselves as cocky fighting heels, which instantly makes them some of the most compelling heels on the main roster—maybe David Otunga was right to say Jimmy Uso was one of the only people alive who could match A.J. Styles, because he and his brother are showing a lot of the same psychology Styles did in his fantastic run as champ. The Fashion Police remain the comedic highlight of SmackDown while busting out new moves in their matches—Fandango especially impresses me with his mixing of go-to moves and formula-breaking stuff. And the Colons are doing way better having dropped the travel agent gimmick and getting back to basics as heels, busting out some impressive power moves during the match. As eight-man tags go, this is good stuff.
  • I’ll admit Naomi and Tamina’s time together on Team B.A.D. largely predated my time watching WWE, so maybe I’m just assuming too much when I say SmackDown could have maybe wrung a little extra heat out of their antagonistic reunion. As it is, they have a perfectly fine TV match, one that is largely setup for what happens after with Naomi and Lana. It’s hard to overstate just how little we know about Lana heading into this match—surely she’s not going to wrestle barefoot in that evening gown, but seriously we have no idea one way or the other—but at least she earned a smidgen of credibility with that post-match attack on Naomi.
  • Both of the pre-match discussions between the two teams of Money in the Bank participants were nicely handled. The running gag of Sami Zayn being overenthusiastic before matches—and A.J. Styles knowing just how hard it is to get a word in edgewise—is punctuated beautifully by Shinsuke Nakamura declaring he likes Zayn. Meanwhile, Kevin Owens lays out a good argument for why Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin should be willing to work with him, despite their mutual antipathy.
  • A point I always come back to with wrestling is that shows are big and varied enough that it should be possible for just about everybody to be put in positions that maximize their talents and allow them to do well. You would hope the main event guys are either the most versatile guys on the roster or those who are able to get the absolute most out of a narrow range of qualities. All of which is to say I appreciate the construction of Jinder Mahal and Randy Orton’s confrontation, at least on the Randy Orton side of the ledger, as it reduces him to his core attributes: an RKO out of nowhere, that pose, a heroic lack of shirt and pants. There’s room to debate how much Orton connects at this stage—the crowd at least reacts to him, and he’s been more engaged in this feud (and most of the Wyatt feud before that) than you might think, but he’s still not the most dynamic wrestler—but this segment zeroes in on the most indisputably over part of the Orton experience and cuts right to the chase. I can respect that.
  • As for Jinder, I try to keep an open mind on this, and I’m not going to say his whole gimmick is a total disaster. If SmackDown Live were establishing Jinder and the Singh brothers as a midcard heel trio, that would feel about right given his indifferent work in the ring and on the mic. Look at the Titus Brand, which has fast become one of my favorite aspects of Raw: That’s positioned at just about the right spot on the card given the talents of those involved, and that good placement is actually showing them off well enough that they have a chance to get way more organically over than if Raw had tried to make them a big deal overnight. That’s about where I’m at with Jinder, especially when I just can’t get behind “nod to multiculturalism as heel move” as a major part of his character.
  • Charlotte and Natalya had more chemistry than I expected, wrestling a better match here than I remember either of their 2016 PPV matches being. What works well here is that they are essentially the same characters: The heirs of proud wrestling legacies, both supremely confident about their abilities and shocked that the other would deign to try to beat them. Charlotte in particular sold just how gobsmacked she was by Natalya hanging with her in the match, which she successfully conveyed as arrogance instead of denigration of her opponent.
  • Given this is a go-home show and Breezango already got their time in the opening tag match, I was worried the mystery of who trashed their office would fade away. But not so, as the latest segment interrupts the commentary team to show that the mystery assailants have attacked Breeze. I’m really hoping the culprits are American Alpha, who have been mysteriously absent for a little while now and could benefit from the rejuvenation of a heel turn after a pretty blah face run. Besides, with the Hype Bros reforming to finish what they started, it makes sense to establish a third credible heel tag team. (And no, I didn’t forget about the Ascension.)
  • Concluding a SmackDown with which I have no great complaints, the main event is a lot of fun. I understand these big tag matches can be pretty rote booking, but the talent involved here is enough to keep the action engaging, and it’s the right kind of crazy that Sami Zayn somehow owns Baron Corbin. The closing round of ladder destruction is similarly predictable but fun, with Shinsuke Nakamura standing tall to end the show. At this point, it feels plausible that any of the six competitors could win and have intriguing story possibilities come out of that (except maybe Dolph, but that would draw the kind of meta heat WWE is all about these days, so who knows). That’s a good spot to be in!

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