This week’s Smackdown was defined, for me, by dangerous booking in at least two matches, where each competitor had an awful lot to lose. One example was worked out very smartly, and the other seemed to waste what could have been a special or meaningful moment. All will become clear.
The first shot of the show was Christian politicking about his right to yet another World Heavyweight Championship shot; a shot which he has a fair claim to. After last week, however, when Mark Henry pinned Orton, as well as his subsequent actions against the Big Show, it’s hard to keep the World’s Strongest Man out of the title picture. This made the stipulation of Henry’s match with Orton, logical, i.e. that if he beat the champ again, he would get a place in the Money in the Bank main event. This was the first of the two matches that presented an almost impossible booking situation: either the World Champion looks weak, or Smackdown (and WWE’s) new unstoppable monster heel have his character weakened by being beaten and made to look vulnerable. I think the booking here, however, was inspired. The match was a nice example of the big monster against the smaller, faster face. I enjoyed the finish more though. Champions should usually seem strong, but there is nothing wrong with seeming vulnerable in the right circumstances, and that is what happened here. With Henry in control, the Big Show’s music hit to distract him. Unlike most heel’s, Henry didn’t seem shocked or back off, but instead, gestured for Show to bring it on. Usually, you would expect a hero like Randy Orton’s current character to be uninterested in a technical victory, but here, given the sheer power he was faced with, Orton seemed happy to win by count-out, hitting an RKO to Henry just as the ref counted 10. This allowed justification for Henry not being in the main event picture, while keeping both men from looking weak. What followed was spectacular. Henry, who was understandably furious at being cost a title opportunity, confronted the sound guy in the manner of a classic bully (what really stuck out to me was when he offered to let the guy go, but shoved him down when he tried to). Then, after grabbing him by the collar, Henry threw the guy over some equipment and to the floor, as if he genuinely weighed nothing. To take such a bump, the guy must have been a wrestler too, so it wasn’t like he was small. I also liked how the next two entrants had to come out without music, selling even more Henry’s actions; the silence a very conspicuous reminder of Henry’s brutal act. Add this to Henry’s other recent feats of strength and his star only grows more as an almost awe-inspiring personification of destruction.
The standard of matches were also very high on the whole. Daniel Bryan against Ted DiBiase was my favourite of the night. DiBiase and Bryan had great chemistry together and there was lots of natural back-and-forth there; all of the foundations of a good match. What stood out here though was the subtle continuity in the storytelling from previous matches and the earlier stages of this match itself. For example, Bryan hitting a vicious dropkick to DiBiase in the corner before going for a pin – the progression which won Bryan the match last week. DiBiase’s scouting of Bryan’s flying knee provided one of the most admirably vicious moments of the match when he caught Bryan, ran him in to the post before shunting him in to the guard-rail, causing Bryan to let out a visceral scream of pain while clutching his shoulder, so much so that I thought he was actually injured. The quality of his selling kept that impression alive for me, and it really is a great achievement whan something as basic as selling can make a ‘smart’ fan sincerely question his well-being. Either that or he’s legitimately injured, in which case, AmDrag has balls. Apart from this, early on in the match, DiBiase hit his patented clothesline which he strikes with after following his opponent in to the ropes. Later, when he tried the maneuver again, Bryan had it scouted and used an ingenius counter to capture DiBiase in his version of a Dragon Sleeper for the win. Some nice storytelling which I liked all the more beause it saw Bryan go over with a move that wasn’t the LaBelle Lock. I like the LaBelle Lock, but given Bryan’s mastering of submission wrestling, it’s only good that he gets to use more moves in the ring, especially as it makes him seem all the more dangerous when there are countless ways he can make someone tap. The announcers mentioned Bryan’s repertoire, so hopefully it will remain a focus for him going forward. Last week, Cody Rhodes and Daniel Bryan had the opportunity to work the mic, and both came over well. While I like this feud for purist wrestling reasons, it is lacking the extra significance of a good and relatively detailed storyline to make it a really hot feud. Cody ‘mentoring’ Ted is a nice starting point, especially given his enigmatic character, but I feel we need that extra big angle or storyline progression to really take it to the next level.
I was interested to get just that from Ranjin Singh in relation to the current Jinder Mahal/Great Khali angle. Jinder is obviously being pushed as a star, but as time passes, more of his character needs to be revealed. While I’m glad to see WWE attempted that with Singh’s relating of the history between the history of Mahal and Khali (that Mahal is actually married to their sister and can influence Khali by threatening him with the prospect of divorcing, humiliating, and shaming his sister), I’m not quite sold on it. I’m happy to see WWE paying at least lip-service to the psychology of another, relatively alien culture here, but it seems a little thrown together at this point. Yes, Mahal has quite a hold over Khali, but Khali hasn’t ever seemed reluctant to comply to Mahal’s demands. Nonetheless, there is potential here. Here’s how I’d book it: Have Khali and Mahal call out Nexus (Otunga and McGillicutty), arguing that they have been the most dominant team in WWE. If they win, they get a title shot at MITB. During the match, Ranjin Singh shows up and teases screwing his ‘brother’ before doing something managerial to help Khali and Mahal go over and walking to the back, disgusted with himself. The next week, all three appear in the ring and Mahal tells him that to defend his sister’s honour, he will need to help him to victory again at the PPV, and that, to remind him of his duty, she will be in attendance. CM Punk’s future is actually important to whether Nexus keep the titles, but any result is workable. Say he’s staying, as I suspect, Nexus can’t lose the titles. During the title match then, Mahal himself makes a mistake and Nexus takes control, causing Mahal to go vent at his ‘wife’, shouting at her and blaming her. Khali is naturally drawn to this, and while he is distracted, one of the Nexus guys manages to hit his finisher for the win, leading to more storyline progression from there. Y’know, something like that.
The second match which produced a booking nightmare was Christian vs Sin Cara. It was nice to see Cara against someone who wasn’t Rhodes or DiBiase as that feud really becomes about Bryan’s relationship with the two, but here was a situation where, really, both guys had to win. Especially with Orton looking beatable, Christian has to keep looking strong going in to MITB to make the contest (which Orton has won thrice in a row) seem competitive. Cara meanwhile, has less to lose personally, but given that he’s one of the next big things, an unbeaten sensation, there was a lot of reputation to be claimed for the man who beat him. I expected Cara’s run to be an angle in itself, with the defeat coming at the end of A feud (respectful or not) at PPV. This could lead to a ‘he’s got his number’ style feud where Cara is obsessed with beating whoever it is to end his streak. I felt that sort of potential was just lost here. It was a really nice match though, which ended in a way which made Christian look great while not damaging Cara too much. Nothing much specifically to point out, but it was consistently exciting, and Christian’s ire at Cara’s showboating in the face of his reluctance to take on the impossible ‘No Face’ made this match as much as the spectacular action did. In the end, Christian had to act with more sense than skill, sweeping Cara’s feet from under him on the top rope in the brutal manner of a bastard heel, completely out of keeping with Cara’s stylistic approach to combat, before hitting him with a great Spear for the win.
Given Cody Rhodes’ meteoric rise, it’s hard to believe he’s never been Intercontinental Champion, especially with people (including me) touting him as a future World Champion in the near future, but indeed, won that championship he never has. It seems like the next logical step: IC championships are often a stepping-stone to the top title, and Cody seems on his way. The only problem is that Ezekiel Jackson, who is could also (though far less deservingly) be on his way to the top, has only just become champion. It was a relatively close match considering the gulf in size between the two, though Zeke was starting to control the match towards the end. Cue DiBiase, who had disappointed his ‘friend’ earlier on and wanted to impress him by helping him to victory against Zeke, which he did to his own detriment, being ran in to the steel ring-post. This gave Rhodes the chance to hit his Beautiful Disaster and then Cross-Rhodes for the win over the champ, surely setting up a title shot in the future. Zeke will not lose his title at his first defence, so Rhodes will have to lose, which can’t be good for his rise – well, depending on what happens at MITB!
The Wade Barrett-Kane match was so-so. I do want to comment about the result though. I was one of the many who marked out when Kane won the World Title last year, but I’m now happy enough that he’s returned to his more regular post-mask role of making younger guys look good, and that is what I expected for Wade Barrett, who could easily be top heel on Smackdown. I thought it even more important given that Wade has only now struck out on his own. Imagine my surprise, then, when Kane went over. It just seemed so counter-intuitive. Maybe that’s a good thing, but we’ll have to wait and see about that. If it leads to a feud between the two, I guess it’s forgivable.
The ‘main event’ was the eventual contract signing between Christian and Randy Orton. I enjoyed this well, especially Christian’s contribution. He is working so hard to get over as a heel, and is succeeding, gaining more and more heat each week (even despite his entrance music, which is almost tailor-made for a face – I’d love to see him return to his ‘At Last’ theme. Look it up if you’re not familiar). Here, he was convincingly emotive, almost screaming at Randy that he is better at him while forwarding the heelishly ridiculous claim that he himself is unbeatable, despite losing three times in a row to The Viper. With Randy all signed up, Christian was about to when Sheamus hit the ring to assault Orton, who had punting him a few weeks ago, hitting him with a vicious Brogue Kick. The Celtic Warrior had no qualms about sending a message to Christian too though, destroying him too with a Brogue Kick before turning his attention to the unsigned contract and tearing it to pieces. What that means for the World Title match at MITB is unclear. I can only imagine that Sheamus will be added to the match. Having been punted by Orton, no one would have expected him back for a while yet (probably after MITB) and his coming back is one of the fastest returns from a punt in history (Chris Jericho is still selling his!), so I can only think he is back to play some sort of part in that match, eventhough he’s already for the actual MITB ladder match. It’s another variable for that PPV, one which is already, by its very nature, surprising and unpredictable (though I will of course attempt to predict the outcomes of that PPV in a couple of weeks …)
Smackdown had a tough act to follow after Punk 3:16 on Monday, and I think they did a decent job with the destruction of Mark Henry which begs for rubbernecking, and this chaotic World Title scene which is blowing up before our eyes.