I really enjoyed the opening to this week’s Smackdown with Mark Henry stamping his authority on the episode right from the off with another sinister and intense promo from the World’s Strongest Man. His words were full of violence, and retained some of that Southern brutalism which makes him genuinely terrifying. That is why, when Zack Ryder came out to greet him, it was such a big contrast. After informing us that there was a ‘no-contact’ rule between Henry and Orton for the night, it was clear that Ryder was in trouble, and indeed, he did fall victim to the World’s Strongest Slam, but only before manning up and pre-empting Henry with some punches. This was great for both guys as Henry seemed unstoppable while Ryder showed his babyface credentials with bravery beyond the call of duty.
He then got to wrestle Ezekiel Jackson, who is a good match for him, at least in terms of body size. This is the sort of level that Zeke needs to start from to rebuild after his failure as IC champion, showing his power, strength, and bravery, without rushing in pushing him. Their match was better than I would have expected, and told a good story which made Zeke look better than I expected, especially when Henry had to fight to escape the Torture Rack before escaping the ring. With Henry being such a monster, this made Zeke seem fearful himself, which is a good foundation for him. Eventually, however, Zeke had to fall to Henry and the World’s Strongest Slam. Again, Henry seeming not only powerful, but seemingly unstoppable.
Sin Cara vs Tyson Kidd was pretty good. Given enough time, they could put on a great match. One thing i’m not sure about is that springboard senton/asai moonsault combo. It isn’t very clean yet, and probably isn’t as good a finisher as his top rope moonsault side slam (I know there’s a proper name for that; it’s escaped me!) or his La Mistica, but still, if used in conjunction with his other moves, it is an impressive combination. The real story here was the post-match interview with Cara in which the man with no face spoke English for the first time. Given the rumours of a Cara vs Cara feud, and the big deal made out of people not being sure whether he even spoke English, makes me think this last week’s actions were all part of setting up this feud. The fact that the ‘bad’ Cara (presumably Hunico) spoke could be quite interesting given how the ‘good’ Cara didn’t speak, wanting to represent the people and not himself. It is an interesting way to explore the behaviour and treatment of a folk-hero, and if treated well, it could be great. So Cara was ‘injured’ in that ladder spot at Money in the Bank. If it was me writing, i’d say that Hunico posed as Sin Cara and started with these bad guy, selfish acts. This continues until during a future Cara match when the original Sin Cara appears, and confronts Hunico. He doesn’t have to talk; just have him issue a statement about how his character and all those he represents have been disrespected by Hunico and that he will once again represent the people, by taking on Hunico … and take it from there!
Can’t really complain about Kelly going over Nattie. She is the champ after all! Nattie looked great in the match, and Kelly really won against the run of the match, which shows great resilience from her while showing the jeopardy she’s in. Not much progression, but an ok way to keep the Divas of Doom in mind.
Christian’s little cameo in the ring with Sheamus did a good job getting him heat while keeping him relevant when he didn’t have a match. All fair enough, and I think, in the future, these two will have a fantastic feud together. Sheamus went on to take on Wade Barrett in a very even and very impressive match between two guys who are part of the future of the company. Since leaving Nexus, Barrett’s struggled to stay relevant and credible as a top talent, but when given the chance, he always shows his credentials – and this week was no different. Unsurprisingly, this was a straight-up brawl, which went back and forth between the two behemoths. Indeed, Barrett looked at several times like he could be a surprise winner, and was shown respect in the booking when it prevented him from being pinned. Just as Sheamus, who himself has been fantastically impressive lately as a babyface, was looking a sure thing for the win, Christian came out to assault The Celtic Warrior and cost him the pin. I was pleased to see this because had the situation been left as it was before, with Christian simply leaving the ring after Sheamus insulted him and told him to, it would be very damaging to his credibility. Again, it seems sure that these two will feud, and while it isn’t clear yet, I would like to see this become what it easily could be; an almost stock babyface against a stock heel. These two have very little ‘personal issue’ with each other; they simply clash in character. Christian, a classic heel, will whine and manipulate to get opportunities, while cheating to capitalise; Sheamus, the opposite, is an honourable and grave fighter, and so finds Christian to be ab abhorrent character, especially when taunted by him. Even though nothing has really happened between them, it makes sense that they don’t like each other and would clash.
The tag team match was fine. More, and rightly so, of getting AirBoom over as powerful champions against the flop tag team of Jinder Mahal and the Great Khali. Following the inevitable defeat of the heels, Mahal bereted Khali and Khali retaliated. It seems WWE are just giving up on the pairing, but that is just as disappointing. There was definite currency in their story, and I would rather see them play it out more and keep a believable tag team, than just give up. It’s not definite yet, but it seems its going that way. Otherwise, another powerful performance from AirBoom.
The main event was one I have been looking forward to, in a sense, for years, since the split of Legacy, and now that Cody Rhodes has blossomed, it is the right time for him to rise to the top. I was also very pleased to see him get some time on the mic, especially seen as he made the most of it. His delivery has always been unique and intriguing, but this week it was even more chilling. The words themselves were especially brilliant, as when referring to Ted DiBiase being an anchor, and that when he dropped him, ‘ladies and gentlemen, the Intercontinental Championship rose to the top’. A great turn of phrase that put over not only himself but the Intercontinental Championship. My only problem is that, if it has indeed happened, I think the split has come too quickly. I’d like to have seen them continue as a duo for some more months until finally, Ted turns, possibly even gaining the IC title (depending on how over he is by then). Getting to Orton’s description of him as ‘unstable’, I liked his phrase that there is a thin line between unstable and ‘thriving’. There is almost a theatricality to his promos which is hugely entertaining, fits his character very well, and really sets him apart. I was equally impressed with the main event match. During Legacy, I loved how Rhodes and DiBiase started to aesthetically resemble Orton, and in this match, that sense was back again so that, despite Rhodes’s smaller size, he seemed Orton’s equal. One particular moment that struck me came when Orton was down in his familiar coiled ‘predator’ position, which was mirrored by Rhodes. Not only that, but his ‘knowledge’ of Orton gave him the storyline ability to telegraph Orton in a way that most usually can’t. Rhodes was really booked to seem on par with Orton in a wonderful, back-and-forth outing allowing Rhodes near-fall after near-fall on the World Champion. Finally, with Orton looking as damaged as Rhodes, there was a fantastic sequence where each man tried to hit a knockout blow on the other, with Rhodes missing a Beautiful Disaster before escaping an RKO, countering a backdrop and attempting a Cross-Rhodes before missing another Beautiful Disaster and stepping, finally, into an RKO, allowing Orton to pick up the win, which is only right given that he’s the World Heavyweight Champion. While Orton looked great, and wily in his patience looking for the perfect opportunity to spring an RKO, Rhodes looked a very credible opponent for Orton, and so, seems closer than ever to man-event calibre.
As Orton celebrated, Mark Henry’s music hit. Given the earlier ruling that Henry and Orton couldn’t touch each other, I was surprised to see Henry approach him. What was even more interesting was that Henry didn’t simply attack him. Instead he goaded Orton and backed him in to a corner, leading Orton to pre-empt him with an attack of his own. This, of course, means that Orton will have to be punished for breaking Teddy Long’s ruling. Anyway, after his grueling match with Rhodes, he stood little chance against Henry, who decimated him with a beatdown, splash and two World’s Strongest Slams before getting a steel chair and sitting on Orton’s throat, all the while telling him why and how he was going to beat him at Night of Champions. That was a great ending, because WWE wont always put their top babyfaces in any real jeopardy, and so, even if the matches are even, the fans don’t buy that the babyface is in any trouble, and so don’t care about the match, and so, the match as a whole is less interesting and entertaining. You can’t repeat that formula every time, but it is certainly too often the case that the heel’s are buried – take, for example, the RAW championship match, where Cena’s been burying Del Rio every week – it is simply less interesting. That is why I was so happy with this edition of Smackdown, and Henry’s book-ending of the show.