Smack of the Week (07/10/2011): Smackdown Dominates the Universe

EVP John Laurinaitis netweorks with Smackdown GM, Teddy Long

The Leaders of ‘The Walkout’ Clarified Their Demands
After the walkout on RAW, Smackdown really had to address the situation straight off the bat, which they did by having the real core-group of walkers start the show with a promo. They did an important job in simply confirming the situation and clarifying their position. It seems my prediction (and desire) that the roster splits along lines of motivation and manner of their agitations for change. Seemingly led by Alberto Del Rio, the core group of heel agitators of Christian, Cody Rhodes, Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero. Again, they performed a very rehearsed promo detailing that they walked out of RAW because of the ‘unsafe work environment’ but added more layers to their position such as that they will only appear on Smackdown until HHH steps down as COO of WWE, and that they may even walk out of Smackdown if he retains any influence over the blue brand. For that reason, HHH stayed away, leaving Teddy Long in charge of a show boasting some of the best displaced talent from RAW as well as the usual Smackdown roster, and with the support of John Laurinaitis. Long, however, is still honourable despite association, and interrupted the posturing of the heels to announce their matches for the night, including Del Rio against ‘the Mexican Sensation’, Sin Cara. Del Rio’s recent darker demeanor continued as he insisted that he is the only Mexican sensation.

Alberto Del Rio def. Sin Cara ‘Azul’
That match was next, and Del Rio was taking on the ‘Azul’, face version of Sin Cara. The two had a nice match together, with few if any botches from Cara and all of his spectacular high-flying ability. Indeed, despite the match not lasting too long, Cara got in some good offense in against the Mexican aristocrat. His active offense was ultimately slowed by Del Rio’s double-knees to the arm, leading to the cross-armbreaker which Cara could not escape and was forced to tap to. Nothing much of meaning came from the match, but the association was good for Cara while Del Rio was able to look good too. Following the match ‘Dark’ Cara made a strangely un-pyro’d entrance before assaulting the wounded Cara with his senton bomb to make sure their feud continued.

Jack Swagger & Dolph Ziggler def. AirBoom
AirBoom had to traverse heeldom in their explanation for why they wouldn’t be appearing on RAW, and did so by saying they were just supporting their peers and that while they think HHH is a good COO, they think he is the target of a conspiracy and so needs to go for the good of the WWE. Now what happened to #1 contender matches, seriously!? Instead of taking on, say, The Usos for a title shot, Team Vickie were booked against the tag champions, and so it means that the champions have to be booked to be beaten at least once a month to find a contender, which can’t be good for them. At least this time AirBoom – who’s new entrance music is a great idea and fitting – were assaulted mercilessly and brutally by Team Vickie before the match even started, making the eventual defeat seem less damaging. The match was, again, ok, as it was filled with passion from the beaten-down champions, but even their high-octane offense wasn’t enough to overcome their handicap and Swagger managed to hit Bourne with his Gutwrench Powerbomb for the victory, and surely, another title shot at Vengeance.

Beth Phoenix w/ Natalya def. Alicia Fox
Not much to say about the actual match as it was a textbook squash, which Beth needed to recover some credibility from the beat-down she received on Monday. The best thing was the reversal of roles during the Pin Up Strong spot; this time, Nattie put Alicia in the submission with Beth recording the creams with the mic. I love that spot and it certainly makes them seem a dominant pair.

Randy Orton & Sheamus def. Christian & Cody Rhodes
This match was slightly disappointing for a main event featuring four of the best workers on the Smackdown roster. Perhaps it was due to the needless segment where Hornswoggle and Booker T traded Spinaroonies, but the match was pretty short for a main event, and that affected it quite a lot, robbing it of much of it’s drama. While Christian and Rhodes performed well as a team, they couldn’t overcome the power of the babyface team, and eventually Sheamus threw his nemesis, Christian, from the ring, allowing Orton to him an RKO on Rhodes for the win. Refreshingly, Orton hasn’t even been pursuing another title match (as Cena would!) and will be moving on, and given his history (both distant and recent) with Rhodes, he would seem like a natural new adversary for The Viper to help bring him up to main event level.

The Big Show Returned to Confront Mark Henry
Ok, so Big Show couldn’t return and just ignore Mark Henry, but I have to admit i’m not interested in Big Show’s title shot. Show is below par on the mic and isn’t that compelling an opponent for someone with the raw charisma of Mark Henry, other than the fact that he’s the only guy bigger than Henry. But we saw that collision at MITB, and arguably, it should have finished there. Nonetheless their confrontation was well done with Henry refusing Show his title shot in confidence before Show came to the ring to do what he had earlier threatened to do: put him through the announce table and break his leg. The impassioned Giant drove Henry from the ring leading to some wonderful facials from Henry as he looked surprised to finally be matched. At this point, Henry’s ‘No’ was more of an anxious ‘no’ as he realised he was being challenged for the first time. My other problem with all this though was that Show is more dangerous than both Sheamus and Orton, which doesn’t seem like a desirable outcome. After a little back and forth, Henry looked to repeat his awesome World’s Strongest Slam to Show through the announce table, but he was denied by Show who reversed it in to nearly as impressive a spot by chokeslamming the World’s Strongest Champion through the announce table. He then went on to try and keep his second promise of breaking Henry’s leg, again, showing just how passionate he is about what Henry did to him. Before he could perform the sickening spot, however, Teddy Long interrupted and (I think deliberately so) showed more control than there is on RAW by telling Show he can have his match if he didn’t break Henry’s leg. Show acquiesced, but settled fora chair shot or two to Henry as we went off the air. Eye-catching, but I wasn’t too happy with it. I’m enjoying Henry’s dominance, and don’t want Big Show to be the one to stall it.

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Smack of the Week (30/09/2011): Henry Makes for Apex Prey

The show started in unorthodox fashion as Booker T regaled us with his presence in order that he could be the next to try to interview Mark Henry, and after all, Book is much more suited to the World’s Strongest Man, being one of the only three African-American men to become World Champion after a career of hard work. Even Booker  held no interest for Henry though, who refused any offer of praise or camaraderie, preferring instead to talk more about his ‘Hall of Pain’ and the atrocities he has committed.  Henry truly is the best monster heel of recent memory, because he’s genuinely terrifying even to watch, and this was was the case, for me, when Henry was describing having the heads of Kane, Big Show and Lawler mounted, and how he wanted to add to his bloody collection.

I was surprised to see Khali be so competitive against Henry, and though he is a former World Champion, Khali doesn’t really have the credibility WWE was affording  him; and so, it made Henry look weaker than the booking intended. At least he was allowed to win and re-perform his impressive World’s Strongest Slam spot on Khali. That didn’t satisfy me though, as it was a repeat from RAW, so I was glad when Henry took his attack one step further, officially inducting Khali in to the Hall of Pain with that sickening Vader-bomb spot of his. This reasserted his dominance again, and papered over the shortcomings of the bookings, making him again seem unstoppable.

Jack Swagger against Evan Bourne was a really nice match, and it isn’t surprising given their respective pedigrees. These two (and Ziggler and Kingston, who were supporting their respective partners) really do personify a big chunk of the future. The match was technically great, but also well booked to tell the story of Guerrero’s stable, with Ziggler replicating the help Swagger gave him on Monday before Vickie got more involved than she usually does by pushing Bourne off the turnbuckle before he could hit Airbourne, leaving him susceptible to Swagger’s ankle-lock for the submission. Nice match, and it’ll hopefully lead to a tag title match for Vickie’s team, possibly at Hell in a Cell.

Sin Cara squashed Heath ‘The Southern Brawler’ Slater, as indeed he should. Afterwards, a Sin Cara appeared on the tron, and peeled back the familiar blue and gold mask to reveal a new black mask (and his identity as the ‘bad’ Cara). This is the simplest of characterization, but perfect for their characters which are so strongly portrayed by their masks. More pragmatically, it’ll be very helpful for the upcoming PPV match between the two.

Backstage we saw another legal consult by David Otunga. This was specifically interesting because John Laurinaitis was involved in the discussion. This is seemingly formulating the conspiracy theorists side which will soon, inevitably, blow-up, and it seems it will happen soon. In fact, the group’s agreement to do something on Monday seems very foreboding, not only for Hell in the Cell, but for Survivor Series too.

With Beth going over on RAW, it makes sense that Kelly got a win going in to the PPV, but Nattie wasn’t done down. Her and Beth’s post-match beat down, and how it was done, was fantastic. Nattie’s PinUpStrong submission is fantastic, and Beth’s berating of her was fantastic, holding the mic to Kelly’s mouth, hushing the audience as Kelly screamed and even cried. Very powerful, and a nice way to provide a memorable moment for the build for the PPV.

Cody Rhodes fought Sheamus after another good promo. His match with Sheamus was very good, and he did well in matching Sheamus in terms of sheer brawling, which made him look great. In this, Rhodes continued to look equal to main-event calibre, really taking Sheamus to his limit. Sheamus finally got the upper hand and looked about to hit the Celtic Cross, only to be scuppered by Christian, who managed to hit a Killswitch on Sheamus to gain the upper hand going in to the PPV after The Great White Brogue Kicked Rhodes.

Zack Ryder had a nice match with JTG, who I was pleased to see on TV again. Ryder was again very charismatic, playing the gimmick to its hilt, and much to the delight of the crowd and myself. JTG though was trying equally as hard, and was really performing well, with the usual inventive moves and style he uses. Obviously Ryder had to go over, and he did with a nicely modified version of the Rough Ryfer, but I would like to think JTG will have gotten a bit of a rub from this (imagine, saying that about Ryder!) which could lead to more opportunities.

The main event was another Orton-Christian encounter, and it was worthy of their series. Starting out it was a little more lacklustre than we’re used to. Lots of back and forth, great chemistry, great booking based on their previous matches again with Christian dummying a sunset flip like he has before because of how he lost their first match, and some perfectly executed near-falls, like the one following Christian’s Spear. Orton got the upper hand following a hangman DDT, and before he could strike with a final RKO, Christian fled the ring. This led to a double count out, and what was seemingly going to be another ‘unstable’ beat-down. At this point, Cody Rhodes appeared to halt this attack, which made a lot of sense given the events of last week. This drew Sheamus out, who chased Christian off, but this only left the stage clear for the predatory World’s Strongest Champion to appear with violence on his mind. At this point, I wanted one of these two things to happen: Orton to hit an RKO, or Henry to do the chair spot on Orton. As it turned out, the former was the case, and it just goes to show how well this feud has been booked that Orton (who dishes out RKOs liberally) RKOing Henry was genuinely surprising. Some really good face-chase booking here, showing that maybe Orton has a chance against the seemingly unbeatable Henry, especially when Orton re-took symbolic possession of the ring.

Smack of the Week (23/09/11): All-Comers Take On Henry

This week’s Smackdown started, surprisingly, with Johnny Ace in the ring surrounded by most of the Smackdown roster and, in essence, holding court. I thought this would play in to the setting-up of Laurinaitis as the red-herring figure as conspirator, but instead, it seemed to pull back from that a little, with Mr. Future Endeavors seemed to reassert an allegiance with HHH as COO. Perhaps then, his actions are not a red herring and WWE simply thought his role in the ‘conspiracy’ was too obvious. He welcomed Mark Henry to the ring, and in a rather impactful moment, the roster seperated to allow the new World Heavyweight Champion to enter the ring. I loved this because i’ve always been a big fan of the ring and the canvas being treated as sacred ground, and it really seemed so when the champion was ceremonially allowed to enter. This happened again when a deity (HHH) joined him. But before they could discuss whatever they wanted to discuss, Christian deliberately ruined this ceremony by entering the ring uninvited to ask for ‘one more match’. With Orton as Champion, that was a big and dangerous challenge in itself, but given that the unstoppable Mark Henry is now champion, Trips seemed only too happy to give Christian his match this week.

Good to see Wade Barrett defeat Justin Gabriel. Gabriel (the man with the worst theme music in WWE), has been getting a bit of a push as of late, While Barrett hasn’t been really living up to his once show-stealing billing. I don’t think that this victory will do much for Barrett’s career, but at least it helps build his credibility some.

The Divas of Doom getting another victory under their belt is a good thing, with Beth pinning AJ ‘with the greatest of ease.’ Bbut with all respect to AJ (who I love) and Kaitlyn, victories over them don’t make up for their recent losses to Kelly Kelly and Eve. I’m hoping that down the line, these bigger victories will come.

The first main event of the night saw Randy Orton take on Cody Rhodes. This match wasn’t as captivating as their other affairs, but to be fair, it wasn’t intended as such. Orton had to come out all guns blazing after losing his title, and he did. The good news for Rhodes though was that, for the most part, he remained toe-to-toe with the Viper, even if it meant again using his protective mask to do so. Unfortunately for Rhodes, this only infuriated Orton, who used the mask vigorously and without mercy against Rhodes. The amount of time the mask has spent off his face makes me believe, incidentally, that it will be coming off pretty soon, perhaps even in a Luchas de Apuestas type-match. Anyway, on TV, this culminated with a hangman DDT to Rhodes, but live, the assault continued on Rhodes, with the Intercontinental Champion suffering a huge gash from a ring bell shot, causing puddles of blood to be spilt. It’s a shame we couldn’t see this assault as losing some of it surely detracted somewhat from the intended effect of it, but nonetheless, I think these two have a wonderful chemistry together because of their extensive history. The same is true of Ted DiBiase who, regrettably, didn’t appear this week. Hopefully this doesn’t signal the end of his feud with Rhodes.

Sin Cara’s series with Daniel Bryan continued with a short but decently enjoyable match. The story was really all about the Cara vs Cara feud, which was continued when the original Cara was setting up for some sort of diving move from the turnbuckle when the new ‘bad’ Cara ran in, pushed the original down in a rough spot to replace him and hit a senton bomb to Bryan to hand him another loss. This was good and well booked, and furthers their feud well. But while i’m sure Bryan’s losing streak is leading to some sort of angle, it just seems like he’s being lost in the shuffle a little, to the point where a heel turn may even be desirable, despite the likeability of Bryan as a face. Either that, or hurry up and pull the trigger on his angle, because he’s going to have to get super over soon if he wants to headline WrestleMania.

AirBoom had a very intriguing match with The Usos, pitting face team against face team. The Usos gave a great account of themselves in this match with some good tag team spots, but AirBoom eventually overcame the challenge of the men descended from Samoa. AirBoom again looking strong as champions, which is right. It is a shame though that the Usos were brought in, seemingly just to be sweeped aside. That, however, is preferable to them turning heel because they are so naturally likeable. That was a problem here; as competition to the face champions, though they didn’t act as heels, they seemed like them. Nonetheless, I was glad to see them back in the picture.

Finally, we had Christian’s latest World Title shot against Mark Henry. This was a pretty good match, with Christian being booked as at least some challenge to the World’s Strongest Man. Often when taking on monster heels, simply getting them off their feet is seen as a huge achievement, and after an onslaught of attacks, Christian achieved this with a missile dropkick. This, however, posed the opposite problem to the previous match, as a heel vs heel match, one heel had to, almost inevitably, get over with the audience as their favourite, and it was Christian who took this place. That isn’t to say the fans supported him, but they did prefer him, and he did gain some cheers even when he knocked Henry down. Following this though, the sheer power of the new World Champion became too much for Christian, who succumbed, like so many others recently, to a World’s Strongest Slam after his new antagonist, Sheamus, acted as personal lumberjack to Christian, throwing him in to the waiting arms of Henry. In contrast to the earlier dynamic, Henry was drawn as the heroic relief to Christian’s heelish whining, extinguishing him for  the win and his first title defense. Troublesome booking of heel vs heel there, but perhaps the fact that they swapped their roles somewhat during the match saved it from being critical to the heel characteristics of either man. In the aftermath of victory, down came Randy Orton to confront his Hell in a Cell opponent, managine, with some effort, to get Henry out of the ring with a dropkick. Of course this made Orton seem instantly the most credible of a bunch of not credible challengers to Henry’s dominance. Nothing ground-breaking, but decent build. Here begins the face-chase.

A Quick Look at Night of Champions, 2011

The break-down of the main event of Night of Champions

Ok, so I was in no position to write a Night of Champions review yesterday, and since then, we’ve had another RAW, which has cast a different shadow on everything, so i’ll take less time here to write a more snappy post about the PPV, and the main points of interest which came from it. For more, go and check out my tweets from Sunday night (@RTVWOW) and follow me otherwise for LIVE reaction to the world of wrestling as it rolls on.

A quick note on the Intercontinental Championship match. A perfectly respectable match here to start what will probably, and rightfully, continue for some time. These two obviously have good chemistry together and the story of the match was neat and simple. Ted was equal to Cody but got too impassioned with his quest for revenge and removed Cody’s mask. While holding it triumphantly aloft, Cody took advantage to pin Ted with a roll-up. Nothing truly memorable, but enjoyable.

Really enjoyed the US title match too. It was as expected; fast-paced and spectacular at times, we saw some of the most exciting up-and-coming superstars WWE has to offer. Before Sunday, I was a little tired of the Dolph/Swagger before this Sunday, but this match really invigorated their feud a lot, and it was all because of the booking. Swagger, impressive, was a dominant force in the match, and after hitting a Gutwrench Powerbomb to Morrison, he looked destined to be the next US Champ. Before he could even cover Morrison, Ziggler moved in, Jericho-style, and pushed Swagger out of the picture and stole the victory from the All American American. A great way to show the competitive nature between the two and it is something that will lead, I think, to a face-turn for Swagger. As for Morrison, who was pinned and had a hard time on RAW, his future doesn’t seem too rosy.

Mark Henry was straight-up awesome. I was expecting him to lose but be impressive, but he was impressive instead in victory. It was blissfully simply booked to retain Henry’s enduring power. The in-ring story was fantastic with Orton being beat down and having his leg damaged by Henry, so much so that he couldn’t hit him with the RKO, and after Henry swatted the Viper away, Orton walked straight in to a World’s Strongest Slam for the win and the important distinction of becoming only the third ever black World Champion. His brilliance didn’t stop there though. His post-match promo was the best I have ever heard, full of passionate and righteous anger. He was shoving his win in everyone’s face, but not in a cocky way, but simply full of sheer, furious force. It needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

A lot of upset among fans that Beth Phoenix adhered to the home-town rule of often not winning. At the time, I felt the same, and to an extent I still do. After Natalya lost to Eve on RAW, it seems that the ‘Divas of Doom’s’ losing streak may be leading somewhere in itself. Perhaps they will hit such a low that they snap even more and go forward destroying the barbie-doll divas. Kelly Kelly has been escaping and surviving so far, and so perhaps when either Nattie or Beth finally win the title, it will be refreshing. In fact, perhaps Kelly could eventually become a heel persona, damaging the title by avoiding the genuine challenges (the problem with that being that Kelly would be a horrible heel). Another route would be for more divas to joining the ‘Divas of Doom’ (I had this idea after seeing a wwe.com article imagining that scenario). Either way, i’m sure the story isn’t over.

Cena won. It is ridiculous that he won. I almost can’t bear to discuss it more. One thing I will say is that I think it was so representative of (to use Punker’s phrase) ‘the soul-crushing status-quo’ that, for those who felt the show was bad, it was this matches fault, because those who have, like me, ‘CenaNuff’, the bad feeling from this match probably bled over in to the main event. Cena doesn’t need this title, and Del Rio certainly didn’t need a short joke of a reign, and though I think he’ll regain it soon (which is right), it just makes the championship seem less and less prestigious.

Finally, the main event, which, as I say, was tarnished by the mess of the Cena-Del Rio outcome. The match itself, at least when it was just Punk and HHH together was fantastic; in fact, I would go so far as to say it was among the best ever no-DQ matches i’ve ever seen. Brutal, but with an excellent flow, it was a joy to watch as these two huge (but very different) stars went to war. The match started quickly, with Punk knocking Trips off the apron during his entrance, and never looked back. HHH’s merciless attack on Punk’s knees were truly brilliant, be it slamming them patella-first in to the ring posts, or sandwiching them between the post and a chair-shot. Punk was HHH’s equal though, culminating in his Macho Man elbow drop through the announce table. It was at that point that things got complicated. Out came Miz and Truth who started beating down on both competitors, seemingly trying to get Punk to cover HHH and have Trips removed from his job as COO. At this point, I liked how they beat-up and dragged Punk on to HHH because it presumed that Punk wouldn’t accept their help and so they would make him accept their help. What didn’t make sense was when Punk covered HHH after a GTS, and in the confusion, Truth pulled Punk off HHH (this was so nonsensical, in fact, that I can only assume it was a mistake on Truth’s part). We then saw John Laurinaitis summon Kevin Nash back to the ring with a text message (the strong suggestion therefore being that it was he that did the same at Summerslam). He too beat up on both guys, and it got to the point where the heels were conspirators seemingly without a cause. Together though, Punk and HHH managed to fight the heels off and Punk succumbed to a Pedigree to lose the match. Now a lot of people called this a burial, but that is not the case. It took a jack-knife powerbomb, a huge beat-down from Miz and Truth, and three Pedigrees (not to mention the brutality of the match) to keep Punk down. No match with this level of interference can be ‘clean’. The problem with this was that it all seemed so unfocused at the time. In retrospect, I suppose the ‘big story’ was that Miz, Truth, and probably Nash and Laurinaitis were trying to cost HHH his position as COO, but when mixed in with such indiscriminate violence, that aspect only became clear the next night on RAW. So it was a very good main event in some ways, but needed a more clear point of storyline progression, or a twist of sorts to really make it feel like a satisfying ‘event’.

Overall then, a pretty good show tarnished by the very worst of SuperCena but memorable for the crowning of Mark Henry and the first major match between Punk and HHH being a memorable and brutal war.

Night of Champions Preview and Predictions, 2011

Night of Champions, September 18, 2011 from the First Niagra Center, Buffalo, NY

What a difference a year makes. Last year, Night of Champions emanated from the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois. At that event, home-town boy CM Punk (you may have heard of him) was beaten by The Big Show in around 5 minutes in one of the clearest ‘status quo’ moments of Punk’s career to date and a piece of booking which is widely renowned as a bit spit in the face of Punk. This year, the Allstate Arena hosted Punk’s greatest triumph and what was the closest thing i’ve seen to date to a perfect PPV, Money in the Bank. Since then, and before, Punk has been the hottest thing in wrestling, and this Sunday may well be the most crucial night of the current storyline, as some fans have become frustrated with the direction of the angle. But more on that later. A lot of fresh PPV faces this month at a time where championships generally have been growing in importance and prestige. If this trend continues, Night of Champions could be a great night and another part of what is becoming a vintage year of PPVs. With that in mind, a lot of my picks are based on the prestige of the championship on the line.

Match 1) United States Championship Match: Dolph Ziggler (c) vs Jack Swagger vs Alex Riley vs John Morrison
The situation surrounding this match is rather complicated. The real ‘feud’ here is between Ziggler and Swagger and it is based on jealousy and testosterone-fueled competition surrounding Vickie Guerrero’s professional affections. These two bucks have been at it for weeks now, and really, Morrison and Riley were just wedged in here to give us a bit of variety of stipulations for the night. It seems to me that the favourite for this match with the other critics is Jack Swagger, and that is certainly possible; in fact, this is probably the hardest match to call on the card. Ziggler and Swagger are great wrestlers, and Morrison is very athletic and unique. It is just Riley that lets the side down in the ring as he is greener than his faux-Irish entrance movie that plays him to the ring. Him aside, this has the potential to be a fast-paced spectacular with some coll, unique spots. As for the winner though, I don’t think, like other people, that Morrison and Riley are there just as furniture, I think one of them will win the title, and leave Swagger and the newly title-less Ziggler to either feud without distraction, or joining Vickie’s stable in harmony, and possibly as a tag team. So that whittles it down to Morrison and Riley. A month or two ago, I would have picked Riley, but it seems to me that WWE are, rightly, losing a bit of faith in Riley. Morrison is in hot water too post Melina’s firing, but I think they still, ultimately, view him as a future star and a US title reign would be a good way to stabilise his career without giving him too much. If they’re going to feud, either Ziggler or Swagger will cost the other match, if they are to team, it’ll probably be more clean.

Winner: John Morrison

Match 2) Intercontinental Championship Match: Cody Rhodes (c) vs Ted DiBiase
This match has the potential to be absolutely great, given all of the deep history between these two. My frustration here is that these two were split up too soon and so the pay off wont be quite as satisfying. Nonetheless, these two have very similar styles, and that could make for a great match, and hopefully, a good performance for DiBiase in one of the biggest matches of his career. Though they’ve split too early, I think the amount of history between the two means that this wont be a blow-off match. Usually that would mean DiBiase could go over, but given that Rhodes only recently won the Intercontinental Championship, and has been highlighting it’s prestige, it staying with him for some time makes sense. If it were me, I would have Rhodes defend, with the use of his mask and/or paper bag distraction, and then at Survivor Series have Team Rhodes vs Team DiBiase, with DiBiase over to earn another title shot, with DiBiase winning at the next PPV.

Winner: Cody Rhodes

Match 3) Tag Team Championship Match: AirBoom (Kofi Kingston & Evan Bourne) vs The Awesome Truth (The Miz & R-Truth)
There’s been a lot of talk recently about the renewal of the tag team division in WWE, and rightfully so; within a month it has gone from stagnation to freshness. The new champions, AirBoom have a terrible name and are only growing (though quickly) in chemistry. Despite this, a lot of people seem to think, perhaps wisely, that the sheer profile of R-Truth and especially The Miz, make them favourites here, but I would argue that Miz is probably a little above the tag titles and that winning them would undermine drastically The Awesome Truth’s claims of conspiracy. Given that the tag division is currently being strengthened, it makes sense to create some strong champions, and so I see the champions retaining. Trouble in Paradise followed by AirBourne to Truth. Hopefully the signing of Claudio Castagnoli (Antonio Cesaro) and, probably, Chris Hero, will provide the first real challengers to AirBoom, and the eventual ones to take their titles and give real credibility to the division.

Winners: AirBoom

Match 4) World Heavyweight Championship Match: Randy Orton (c) vs Mark Henry
Mark Henry has been on fire, has been hugely impressive, and has been having the most successful and entertaining time of his career. In the wake of this devestation, he has been anointed by everyone on TV at least, and many fans, as the next World Heavyweight Champion, but when? If Henry were to win, the World title will have changed hands on every PPV for three PPVs running. For that reason, I would have liked to have seen Henry continue to feud with Sheamus for a while (they were great together) and have Orton give some shots to some other heels that could benefit (Wade Barrett being a prime candidate) in the mean time. Nonetheless, here we are, and I think for the good of the title, Orton has to retain, for now at least, with Henry getting another shot, and possibly winning, down the line. Imagine him vs Daniel Bryan for the World Title at WrestleMania! So, how can Henry lose without losing credibility? Well many people foresee Kane and/or Big Show returning to scupper Mark Henry, and that seems credible enough to me. Either that, or a bit more unexpected, Henry gets too violent and gets DQ’d.

Winner: Randy Orton

Match 5) Divas Championship Match: Kelly Kelly (c) vs Beth Phoenix
A lot of people were surprised and upset when ‘Diva of Doom’ Beth Phoenix didn’t win the Divas title at Summerslam, and I understand why because the very idea of the ‘Divas of Doom’ caught the righteous interest of many fans who agreed with what Beth and Natalya had to say about the Divas division. I think the reason for that was Kelly being positioned as a top babyface diva by giving her reign more legitimacy, but it seems to me that there would be no point in booking Beth in a rematch only to lose again. I don’t think it will be a squash because of the damage that would do to Kelly, and not only that, a decently timed divas match will itself go some way to helping the division. The home-town girl will win the title and, perhaps, become a Diva of Salvation.

Winner: Beth Phoenix

Match 6) WWE Championship Match: Alberto Del Rio (c) vs John Cena
I’ve been very critical of the build for this match; how it has been boring, and how it has taken interest away from the real main story: CM Punk and HHH. This is also the easiest match to predict. Del Rio won the title at Summerslam, and is the next guy being pushed right to the top; put simply, there is no chance he is losing this match. For those reasons, to me, this is the least interesting match on the card. Del Rio over, but how? Because Cena wont be losing clean (or at least not spotlessly clean). How Cena loses will determine how entertaining this match is. It may well be simple interference from Ricardo Rodriguez, or some independent piece of villainy (holding the tights etc), which would be acceptable, but not all that interesting. If it were up to me, I would have have the outcome of this match somehow relate to the outcome of the main event. I wont go in to fantasy booking too much, but I will say I would like to see WWE ‘higher-ups’ protect Del Rio; I think he would fit very well as someone WWE would want as their champion, and would want to protect as their champion, an idea which would also fit in to how he won the title at Summerslam.

Winner: Alberto Del Rio

Match 7) CM Punk vs Triple H
This is a crucial match, for the wrestlers, for the PPV, and for the company. Punk has been excellent for months, and HHH has, for the most part, been nearly up to his level too. A lot of people, however, feel a lot of fire has been lost from the Punk story and that is why this match is so important; it needs some answers and twists instead of more layers of admittedly interesting confusion. I have every faith that Punk will be determined to do something satisyfing though, because that is quite simply the person he is. Storyline expectations add anticipation to this match, but even more, the first ever match up of Punk and the legendary HHH, who hasn’t wrestled since WrestleMania, is something I am really looking forward to. Something about Punk’s technical, strong style against HHH’s sophisticated powerhouse style against each other seems very attractive to me, and given the sheer skill and experience of these two, I am expecting something special. It seemed to me at the time that when the stip of HHH having to resign if he loses almost sealed the fate of Punk here because, unless there is a big swerve coming, I would be surprised if Trips were relieved of his duty as COO so early. So the question then becomes, if HHH is to win, how will he win, because he surely wont be beating ‘the Voice of the Voiceless’ clean. I’m again not going to produce some fantasy booking, but as long as it’s something that progresses the story in an interesting and engaging way, in the vein of Punk looking like the powerful agitator against the ‘status quo’, it’ll be great. Again, if it links to the means of Del Rio keeping the WWE Championship, it will be even better!

Winner: Triple H

Smack of the Week (18/09/11): Cutting-Edge Chaos

Two sheer forces, Mark Henry and Randy Orton fight to get to each other before Night of Champions

I very much enjoyed the opening segment of this week’s Smackdown. Edge was fine, and him appearing in his home town is a nice bonus. There wasn’t much to him promo though, until Cody Rhodes came out for a rub that is. Eventhough Edge called Rhodes boring, Rhodes being able to interact with a man quickly becoming a legend of revisionism (and rightly so). Rhodes seems to be thriving more and more with each appearance, and the way he is constantly putting over the Intercontinental Championship makes him (and it, by association) make look great. His talk was all about Ted DiBiase and himself (presumably why Edge lost interest and left) before he went about passionately insulting and bagging the audience at ringside, until, that is, one of the bagged men attacked Rhodes. That man was Ted DiBiase, last seen with a bag over his head, with a bag over his head, but this time defiantly taking it off and completing a nice bit of circularity. He then preceded to beat on Rhodes and hit a Dream Street for good measure – a move I can’t remember seeing in a very long time, which is a good sign for Ted. The only problem was that this was followed by DiBiase’s horrible heel-a-riffic music. It actually jarred with DiBiase as a babyface, and it needs to change by Sunday when he will take on Rhodes for the Intercontinental Championship.

Bryan vs ‘Sin Cara’ was a refreshingly aggressive and nicely played-out affair. Bryan came out fighting, brutalising Cara for some time in the early going, not allowing Cara any offense and dominating. It was good to see this as Bryan has been a step behind Cara recently with the bad guy Cara consistently getting cheap shots in on AmDrag. Luckily for Bryan, being a babyface doesn’t necessitate being invincible, as long as you can wrestle well and generally win when it’s a fair fight, it’s fine; in fact, i’d describe that as a general characteristic if a babyface. When Cara did eventually get some offense in, he wouldn’t relent on the defenseless Bryan, getting himself DQ’d in the process. These actions are the actions, on the other hand, of a heel, and this might be what the original Sin Cara had a problem with. WWE are going ahead with the potentially very interesting Cara vs Cara feud as we saw the surreal sight of the two almost identical grapplers facing-off in the ring. I would love this to turn in to something with the original ‘good’ Sin Cara fighting not just for his reputation, but for his reputation as a faceless representative of the people, and it leading eventually to Hunico being repackaged as himself.

I’m a big fan of AJ, and she looked good for a jobber, though obviously being pretty quickly dispatched by Diva of Doom, Beth Phoenix. Simple and classic build for a strong heel going in to a championship challenge. Also nice to see her getting some (admittedly brief) mic time too.

Sheamus/Gabriel vs Barrett/Christian was fine, if a bit formulaic. Good for Gabriel (who by the way, has the worst music in the WWE today) getting to team with a former WWE Champion and one of the fastest rising babyfaces in the company, but his match consisted of being beaten up for 5-10 minutes, getting the hot tag to Sheamus, and earning the win with a 450 Splash. Didn’t seem to hurt the heels too much either. I like how Christian is getting the ‘better’, in a way, of Sheamus by consistently escaping his attacks, and I think they are still leading up to a feud between the two, which, given their respective heat at the moment, could be a show-stealer.

R-Truth and The Miz were something of a surprising inclusion on the Blue Brand this week, and their performance, which they treated as pre-meditated and rehearsed, was incredibly entertaining and dare I say, electrifying! Their self-consciousness of presentation makes them seem unique, and indeed, ‘must see’. Their appearances seem like an event in themselves, almost separate to the wrestling, and that is a very unique and desirable characteristic (just as CM Punk!) It puts me in mind of something Brandon Stroud wrote on his  http://withleather.uproxx.com/2011/09/the-best-and-worst-of-wwe-raw-913/3 blog, which I will now shamelessly quote:
“The Miz seems less like a wrestler and more like a guy pretending to be a wrestler (an observation that got me quoted by Grantland.com’s The Masked Man in a Fair to Flair podcast), and the Miz/Truth partnership takes that one step further — Miz has roped Truth into his “must see” segments, and now we get situations where they come to the ring doing Vaudeville wordplay or a backstage segment where they take the microphone away from Josh and walk to the ring, communicating and passing off the microphone without even having to look at each other. Truth wears a big jacket (for some reason, which is hilarious to me) and tries to work in a new catchphrase, “ninja please!”, complete with Miz doing a Blazing Saddles-quality “WHAT did you just say?” like any of us though he said nigga. They go to the ring and do each others’ catchphrases, and there’s just something wonderful about two guys who can’t find someone to listen finding best friends. Miz and Morrison never had that. Watch any old episode of the Dirt Sheet, Miz does his thing, Morrison say something weird about the Palace of Wisdom and Miz just rolls his eyes like Morrison is an idiot (he is) and moves on. Miz couldn’t break up with Morrison fast enough, he got crammed together with Daniel Bryan and Alex Riley, two guys he eventually drove away with hateful demands, but he seems comfortable with Truth, and the demands all seem like a group effort, and Truth could really be his Cowboy Bob Orton. Just a guy with a similar outlook on life who hangs out with him, and even when they screw up they never really come to blows, because who else are they gonna hang out with?” A very good explanation and one I can’t top.

And while i’m mentioning him, he made this hilarious observation about Alex Riley:
“The Miz seems less like a wrestler and more like a guy pretending to be a wrestler (an observation that got me quoted by Grantland.com’s The Masked Man in a Fair to Flair podcast), and the Miz/Truth partnership takes that one step further — Miz has roped Truth into his “must see” segments, and now we get situations where they come to the ring doing Vaudeville wordplay or a backstage segment where they take the microphone away from Josh and walk to the ring, communicating and passing off the microphone without even having to look at each other. Truth wears a big jacket (for some reason, which is hilarious to me) and tries to work in a new catchphrase, “ninja please!”, complete with Miz doing a Blazing Saddles-quality “WHAT did you just say?” like any of us though he said nigga. They go to the ring and do each others’ catchphrases, and there’s just something wonderful about two guys who can’t find someone to listen finding best friends. Miz and Morrison never had that. Watch any old episode of the Dirt Sheet, Miz does his thing, Morrison say something weird about the Palace of Wisdom and Miz just rolls his eyes like Morrison is an idiot (he is) and moves on. Miz couldn’t break up with Morrison fast enough, he got crammed together with Daniel Bryan and Alex Riley, two guys he eventually drove away with hateful demands, but he seems comfortable with Truth, and the demands all seem like a group effort, and Truth could really be his Cowboy Bob Orton. Just a guy with a similar outlook on life who hangs out with him, and even when they screw up they never really come to blows, because who else are they gonna hang out with? … Riley comes into the ring and does or tries to do the following moves:
1. A running attack you can’t block
2. Spinebuster
3. STO
4. Implant DDT
5. TKO And when he’s not doing moves, he’s effortlessly stopping double-team attacks and reversing everybody’s finisher. Not a headlock or an International in the bunch. All he needed to do was a goddamn Fisherman Buster and he’d be the first draft of every e-fed character I’ve ever seen. And the TKO? Seriously? “I want to do a move that’s just like the Stunner or the RKO, except I have to struggle and hold the guy up on my shoulders and spin in place first. Also, the only person who has ever been cheered for doing this ever is Sable, and that was just the once.”” You can follow Brandon @MrBrandonStroud. Anyway, to get on with my assessment! Bourne looked good in this match, including a sort of head-smashing hurricanrana (that is, if it was intended (even if it wasn’t, it’s a great move and he should use it!)), but the build required Truth to go over to complete the 2-0 over AirBoom. The champions in jeopardy, the challengers looking strong – it’s classic though unadventurous booking, but that’s what is needed to bring a sick tag division back to health.

Usually, talk show segments are nowhere near as ‘cutting’ or ‘controversial’ as the hype suggests, but this was actually an exception. When Edge said he was going to ‘ask the tough questions’, he wasn’t lying, telling Randy Orton, to his face, that he wasn’t sure he would be able to beat Mark Henry. That was such a great moment which seemed to sincerely challenge Orton. By this point, it would usually have broken down already, but here, the words continued for now at least. Orton responded with a powerful response about how Henry has always gotten to him when he’s down. Edge then turned to Henry in similarly direct fashion telling him about his wasted years in the business and got a similarly direct answer. I loved the calm response given that the only reason he didn’t attack Edge was because he was right, and that he was told to go out there and ‘smile and show his personality’. This was getting close to Punk-style Reality Era content, and I liked his sincerity a lot, especially because he wasn’t drawn as a simple psychopath, which is always less interesting artistically and in terms character. As tensions were at fever pitch, Edge seemed to take delight in goading them on before leaving them to the ring themselves. Unsurprisingly, this was followed by a physical skirmish between the two, and Teddy Long, wanting to protect his main-event, got the whole Smackdown roster out to try and seperate them – something they had only moderate success in doing, with either man breaking free to get in pot-shots at the other, including Orton spectacularly leaping over a group of guys to get to Henry. Finally, after Orton got free, he ran straight in to a World’s Strongest Slam, followed by another, and a few splashes, and a sight which has become familiar; Henry standing over Orton with the championship belt in hand. This is the view we were given going in to Night of Champions, and it is one which obviously shows Henry as the dominant favourite. At least this time, Orton was given the chance to – audibly and physically – not back down from Henry, suggesting that he might be one of few people that could give him a challenge. Nonetheless, Henry is being built as almost unstoppable and, even if he doesn’t win on Sunday, he may well be on the route to the title.

Smack of the Week (09/09/2011): Henry On Top

Mark Henry shows Orton what he's after and how easily he can get it.

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.