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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

WWE’s “land of opportunity” is really just an unsafe work environment

Illustration for article titled WWE’s “land of opportunity” is really just an unsafe work environment
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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: Tamina, Carmella (with James Ellsworth), & Natalya defeated Naomi, Becky Lynch, & Charlotte; AJ Styles defeated Dolph Ziggler; Jinder Mahal (with The Singh Brothers) defeated Mojo Rawley; The New Day (Xavier Woods & Big E) defeated The Colóns; Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Kevin Owens
  • Shane McMahon’s introductory description of Tamina: “two time Superstar, a second generation.” Whatever that means, that says all you need to know about Tamina and Shane’s quickly deteriorating mic skills. (Lana calls Tamina “Godzilla” on Talking Smack, taking the title of the show quite seriously.) Luckily, Ellsworth saves the segment by telling Shane to stop “mansplaining” the very concept of the Money In The Bank match. Duh. Then, surprisingly, “two time Superstar” Tamina gets the pinfall in the tag match. At least now she has another milestone moment to go with that time Darren Young got reservations for two to McDonald’s and that time Summer Rae tried (and failed) to join Team Naomina.
  • Let’s try to unpack the Lana of that opening segment, shall we? After weeks of that poorly timed dancing to that terrible (for her, at least) music, a repackaged Lana debuts on SmackDown! Live. With that same terrible music as her actual entrance music, which—while as catchy as every other terrible WWE pay-per-view theme—is basically the antithesis of whatever perception we’re supposed to have of this new Lana character. Simply put: Her entrance music sounds like Xavier Woods farting into his trombone. At the same time, the Rochester, New York crowd does not groan or sigh over the sound of said music. In fact, they couldn’t be more excited! Original Lana got over as a beautiful, great valet/manager, but after a detour through the storyline that told us all to “TAKE THE FISH,” she never quite returned to her original glory. Yes, she maintained her overness (“WE WANT LANA”), but gone is the woman who controls RuRu…er… Rusev. We’ll probably never have that type of fierce competence from the character ever again, especially since I get the impression the artist known as Lana wanted to get away from the stifled, cold version of the character in the first place. (Which is how we got ‘80s groupie Lana, then weird wedding dress Lana, etc.) Now we’re here, and I really don’t think the crowd even understood that Lana was a heel until she went after Naomi during the women’s tag match. In what feels like a major miscalculation of Lana’s popularity (and Lana’s smug face at the crowd reaction to her says a thousand more words), the crowd cools down on the typically beloved Naomi as soon as she starts verbally cutting Lana down. The tag match apparently proves her alignment to the crowd more than demanding a spot in the women’s MITB match or storming off in a huff after being denied, but I don’t really know how much the live audience will even care unless she ends up flopping in the ring.
  • While Naomi’s insults against Lana don’t quite work for the crowd, you know what does? Her interrupting everyone’s promo time to do her full entrance. When you think about it, Naomi doing her full entrance even during promo time is a jerk move—but it’s such a good jerk move. Yet her laughing at and questioning Lana’s in-ring ability and credibility is the thing that gets the audience to turn on her. Despite them also having no evidence of Lana having any in-ring ability or credibility. This reminds me: If you haven’t seen the Total Divas episode where Lana and Naomi have a dance battle, please watch the entire episode, and then wonder why Lana has a dancing gimmick. Then ask yourself: Does she have a dancing gimmick? She wears a ballroom gown and shimmies (she shimmies) to the ring, with the latter causing Becky Lynch (self-proclaimed cornball) to react with the type of face you make when something’s corny as heck.
  • Last week, Dolph Ziggler pinned AJ Styles, with the basic justification for that win being that Ziggler needs to look strong (read: competent) going into Money In The Bank. This week takes that all back though by having Styles beat Dolph in a rematch and actually learn from his own previous match-losing mistake. Then he wins with the Styles Clash, which is his third place finisher (and one Dolph forgot to avoid, unlike he constantly did last week) in WWE. So “strong” Ziggler basically ends up being a fluke, and once the match ends, JBL tries to still sell that Ziggler is the favorite to win the MITB match. It doesn’t work.
  • Mojo Rawley is smart to approach Shane about the past couple of months of nothing, and of course he does it with his real best friend—the Andre The Giant statue—in tow. He even brings up his relatively recent work beating current WWE Champion Jinder Mahal, and Shane takes that into consideration as he puts Rawley in a match with Mahal—one that gets Rawley into the MITB match if he wins. Rawley does not win, which I suppose ends the speculation of him possibly winning the title from Mahal. But it also brings up another fun aspect of Mahal as WWE Champ: Rawley is honestly one of the few singles wrestlers on the roster (besides Tye Dillinger and Aiden English) that Mahal can win against without the live audience reacting in stunned silence. That doesn’t mean there’s no more silence when it comes to Mahal’s promos (or entrance), outside of the occasional “USA” chant. Because instead of really getting boos, you’ve probably noticed that Mahal gets a lot of thumbs downs from the crowd, which is the lowest effort way of showing your displeasure with someone or something. Unless you are Batista, obviously. By the way, did you know that St. Louis is in the United States of America? Because Mahal notes that in his post-match promo like it’s a revolutionary statement.
  • In all the talk about Jinder Mahal’s insane diet and how it’s the reason he currently looks the way he does, I’ll just say one thing about this particular topic: Whatever diet Mahal is on that gives him intense back acne, that’s simply a bad diet, and I honestly can’t see how anyone can say he looks “good” in this form. Especially in HD. Also, is the scab on the bridge of his nose ever going to heal? I guess I’m really just worried about Jinder Mahal’s well-being now.
  • Meanwhile, WWE legends apparently talk to Randy Orton on the phone, despite all those years of him trying to kill them.
  • WWE has officially hit the worst part of all this “The Artist” nonsense when it comes to Nakamura, and that is the hype video package full of painting and what I can only imagine someone backstage called “Oriental” music. I try not to write about the main roster “ruining” wrestlers, because that tends to immediately eliminate discussion of what they’re doing right or are at least close to doing right. But whoever’s responsible for the Nakamura stuff on SmackDown! is on their way to ruining the guy. While everyone still sings him theme and chants “Nakamura,” that can only last so long, especially with stupid painting videos. Trust me: I’ve spoken to casuals who’ve said AJ Styles clearly wasn’t anything special, who’ve said Erick Rowan should be the breakout star of the Wyatt Family (and that Luke Harper could barely wrestle). I hope those people have changed their opinions based on what they’ve seen since, but I also know that can be hard to do if WWE is actively making things worse.
  • This week’s Fashion Files is the longest installment yet, and when it comes to SmackDown! Live’s resident fashion cops, that’s a good thing. In fact, that leads to even more great jokes, and it was already impossible to list them all before. Even better, this week brings Breezango and New Day together, with the inspired touches of New Day going from color to black and white (“Black. And White.”) and Breezango building off their realization they could hear each other’s voiceovers… all for us to learn that it only works for them. New Day bribe Breezango with rompers, they try to explain “DAY ONE ISH” (“Gesundheit.”)—despite no longer being in color, they’re still in a world where they work. At the same time, it’s abundantly clear that the world belongs to Breezango (Fandango “tasted” the cologne for prints), and New Day end up being the straight men in this segments. “Here’s looking at you, Kid… Man.”
  • Don’t worry, New Day haven’t lost their ridiculous touch:
  • I’ve written about how great The Usos have been lately, especially when it comes to their promos. It’s just them being themselves, after all. But maybe they could be a little less “themselves” in terms of going after other teams with the homophobic, “you’re basically women” insults? Not that it wasn’t there during the American Alpha or Breezango feuds, but until now, they didn’t have an entire promo based on that concept. Kofi has pigtails (like a girl); Big E wears a bra (like a woman); their insult of Xavier’s elf shoes works the best though, as the “WHAT ARE THOSE?” is also a callback to a previous New Day segment. So in terms of characters that are just wrestlers’ personalities turned up, this is one aspect of The Usos’ personality that can stay relegated to tweets or the ‘90s. Because come on: There are plenty of ways to clown on The Usos without going for the old, “You’re less than men because you like rainbows.” Now, if you’re thinking this actually works because they’re heels, please consider that no one in the audience is reacting to their insults like they’re heels and how the general consensus of their recent promos is how cool they are.
  • This week in, “So Shane Does Watch The Product, He’s Just Negligent”: Watching Sami Zayn (a nerd who watches tape of his MITB opponents) get attacked by Baron Corbin again, I wondered how Shane would finally handle Corbin’s pathological need to hurt his opponents outside of the ring. After all, Corbin is basically going after Shane’s investments and potentially losing SmackDown! money by constantly taking out popular talent, and that’s also how the show ends with Corbin’s attack on Nakamura. Well, it turns out Shane was also watching the Zayn beatdown in his office while on the phone with… whoever it is he’s always on the phone with. His only friend is Renee Young, and she works for him. Shane’s reaction? It’s basically, “Did you see that?” Is the person he’s on the phone with also watching the show? Is it Renee? Shouldn’t Shane be running the show? On Talking Smack, when asked about Corbin’s behavior, Shane’s actual response is: “Baron was on a roll tonight.” So that’s how he feels about a Superstar potentially injuring all his other Superstars, when he’s not talking about the “woman thing” of women ganging up on him in conversations. Remember that terrible storyline about RAW being an unsafe work environment because The Miz and R-Truth existed (and the Divas were “just girls”)? It would honestly make for a good storyline on this version of SmackDown!, especially since everyone continues to use the “land of opportunity” as an excuse to be a complete monster.
  • During the beatdown, Corbin tells Zayn that Nakamura is not the participant of the MITB match that he should be worried about. Then on commentary, Corbin says Zayn was right to be worried about Nakamura, because Nakamura’s a “dangerous” guy. Considering Corbin’s heel character is not delusional guy who always changes up his story, I’ll chock this up to poor improv on Corbin’s part. Though he clearly went to The Miz’s School of Guest Commentary for putting Nakamura over like that… But he also went to David Otunga’s School of Commentary in terms of being white noise during the match and calling Kevin Owens’ cannonball move a “marshmallow.” Is it ladder match time yet?

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