THE THUNDERDOME IS REVEALED- There is lots pyro and also blue lights. That’s all I see right now.
Vince has showed up to say something. There are a bunch of screens on the TitanTron. I’m sorry, but I don’t see the point of this.
OPENING SEGMENT- dumb
Before Vince can say anything useful, The Fiend comes out to menace him. Now here is Braun Strowman coming out. Vince has disappeared, but I don’t know if this is supposed to be magic or if he just took the opportunity of Braun’s entrance distracting The Fiend to go hide under the ring.
Oh. Okay. The ThunderDome is them having replace the usual LED stuff on the entrance with a bunch of livestreams of fans. I don’t see how that is going to make anyone enjoy the show any more. If anything, it’s just going to be more of a distraction during the matches.
Braun and The Fiend have a stare-down. There is a lot of cheering, which must be canned because I cannot possibly believe that anyone could care about seeing these two fight each other at this point.
Now the lights are fluctuating. We cut to close-ups of each wrestler, then cut back to the hard-cam, and there are some members of Retribution hipping up onto the apron. Where did they even come from? We can’t even see any f*cking seats in that direction, so either they ran out from backstage, or they came from some other direction and instead of just sliding into the ring on that side, they decided to run all the way to the hard-cam side before hopping up on the apron.
And here come some more of them. There is no security anywhere in sight, of course. And no wrestlers out for revenge for last week’s attacks, either. The Fiend magicked himself away because why not?
Retribution all jumped on Braun and beat him down until the whole locker room came out and made the save (with Miz being notably way late). Then Braun attacked Drew Gulak because Braun is angry and evil now. Jey Uso attacked Braun… to get revenge for Gulak, I guess? I don’t know. This felt like it happened because they figured that Braun had to beat a second person up, so Jey got to be #2.
This sucked. It was just WWE getting Braun, The Fiend, and Retribution on TV on the opening segment without any happening that actually moves a story forward, and if your segment doesn’t move a story forward in some way, why are you wasting TV time with it?
BIG E. vs. SHEAMUS- 5/10
Oh. They’ve got a whole arena full of these LED screen with fans on them. I don’t like this at all. It has this feel to it of “look at us! We’re in a virtual world!” or feels like something you’d see on an iPhone commercial where they are hundreds of screens of all different people. It makes the setting feel more fake to me (and especially with Smackdown also using those atrocious and completely pointless “augmented reality” graphics).
They had a bunch of wrestlers surrounding the ring to stop Retribution from coming back. Hopefully they’ve learned their lesson from last week and have some people stationed at other places around the building, too.
Michael Cole insists that “Big E. has been nothing but a locker room leader throughout all this.” There are few phrases that will kill my interest in a storyline as quickly as “locker room leader.”
Sheamus and Big E. fought for a bit. The lights started fluctuating again, and we went to a commercial break. Despite this happening, Retribution didn’t show up for the rest of the match, because turning what is supposedly a big and interesting angle into a cheap ploy to get people to stay around through a commercial break is definitely a good idea.
Big E. did a People’s Running Splash. Corbin attacked Riddle from behind on the outside. They started to fight. Sheamus was distracted by this fight, allowing Big E. to win by roll-up. This continues the idea of Riddle and Corbin’s feud costing Sheamus matches, but I don’ want to see another dirty finish all night, okay WWE?
JEFF HARDY HAS SOMEHOW BECOME INJURED BACKSTAGE- Well… there goes our IC Title match, I guess.
CEASRO & NAKAMURA ATTACK LUCHA HOUSE PARTY BACKSTAGE- When I say “attack” here, I mean they ran up from behind and knocked them down ONCE, stood over them for a few moments, and then left. What was the point of that? If you’re going to attack your challengers from behind before the title match, you ought to actually put a beating on them instead of just stand over them and then leave.
And, of course, before the tag title match starts, Cole is trying to tell me that the champs think LHP is “so much of a threat that they had to sneak attack them before their match.” They ran up and pushed them down. That’s not what you do when you think someone is so much of a threat that you need to debilitate them before the match.
WWE SMACKDOWN TAG TEAM TITLE MATCH: Shinsuke Nakamura & Cesaro(c) vs. Lucha House Party (w/Kalisto)- 5.5/10
Miz and Morrison got to cut an in-set promo during this match making fun of several people. They wer every obnoxious and not in the good heat way. This was just dumb childish stuff that made me want to change the channel. I think Miz referred to Nakamura as a “fartist.” That’s the level of stuff we’re dealing with here. Stuff that ceased being funny in fourth grade. And they’re out there saying it on national television.
This got nowhere near the time it should have. Gran Metalik tried to do his crazy diving rana spot with Cesaro on the floor instead of standing on the apron and undershot, resulting in what looked like Cesaro countering the move into a powerbomb but bumping for the rana anyway. Cesaro pinned Lincé by rolling through a hurricanrana pin into a pin of his own.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT- hopefully this is going somewhere
Kalisto yelled at Lincé for losing, so Lincé shoved him. Gran Metalik ran in to play peacemaker.
JEFF HARDY IS STILL GETTING WORKED ON BY THE TRAINER BACKSTAGE- Even better, they actually showed us some footage of the injury, which occurred during the opening brawl with Retribution. It turns out that AJ Styles took Jeff’s knee out from behind. Okay… this makes me feel a little better about Retribution’s appearance early on serving a purpose, so while I withdraw some of my earlier criticism of that segment, I will also point out that this means that they did the “heel attacks babyface from behind while everyone is on alert for Retribution” angle TWICE IN THE FIRST TWENTY-FIVE MINUTES of the show.
KAYLA BRAXTON INTERVIEWS AJ STYLES- good heel stuff by AJ
After this interview, AJ went over to clank titles with Sasha and Bayley.
MANDY ROSE PROMO- weird
She says she wants to “choose to see the good in” Sonya and wants to not have their PPV match. That really weird thing for a babyface to say.
COREY GRAVES INTERVIEWS SASHA BANKS & BAYLEY- very bad
Why is Graves suddenly acting as an in-ring interviewer? And why is he a babyface all of a sudden?
Sasha and Bayley were insufferable, as usual. They are currently arguing over who will have to wrestle Asuka first at SummerSlam. They stopped arguing and turned their attention to Graves, declaring that no one could beat both of them in one night.
Naomi came out and said she could beat both of them. I don’t know if someone missed a line or something (and maybe that person was me and this all actually made sense), but Bayley responded to this by asking how this was supposed to help them decide who will wrestle Asuka first at SummerSlam.
Graves suggested a Beat The Clock Challenge, which would have been a perfectly fine solution except for the fact that they are both wrestling the same person in this scenario, so the same problem they’re arguing about for SummerSlam also exists here (the person who wrestles second will have an advantage because the opponent will be tired out from already having wrestled).
Naomi asked Sasha and Bayley which of them would wrestle her first. When they went to confer, Naomi blindsided them like a total coward. This idea was made official on the spot via a message into Michael Cole’s headset. What was NOT explained was how they decided the very thing they were accruing over: Who has to wrestle first?
Segments like this are, for me, among the most frustrating things to see on a wrestling show. First, obviously, it annoyed me because it was a bad segment for all of the reasons I laid out above, and I don’t like watching bad segments. One of the things that can make a bad segment even more frustrating is if there is a better way to get to pretty much the same place (I’ll lay that out in a moment). The thing that puts this segment into that top echelon of frustration, though, is that it’s clear that someone started out asking the right questions, but instead of coming up with answers that to me are blindingly obvious, they somehow wound up making mistake after mistake.
This segment came about because someone realized that we needed a way to determine in what order Sasha and Bayley will defend their titles against Asuka at the PPV. Because wrestling second will put you in a much better position than wrestling first, it makes sense that such an advantage should have to be procured by proving superior wrestling skill. Given the situation we have before us, a Beat The Clock Challenge is easily the best option (the only other two that I could even think of were to have Sasha and Bayley wrestle each other- which obviously you don’t want to do here because that needs to be kept special for a MAJOR moment in this story- and to stick them in a tag match where whichever one of Sasha or Bayley were involved in the decision would either get to wrestle second if she got the win or would have to wrestle first if she took the loss, which I don’t like here because it would require Sasha and Bayley to try to screw each other, which I don’t think you want to be doing so overly at this point in the story).
With that established, my thought process for this segment then goes as follows: Okay, great! Let’s find some opponents (preferably not Alexa and Nikki, who we’ve seen Sasha and Bayley wrestle way too often recently) and start advertising this for Smackdown. And we need to make sure that we’re advertising this in advance because the question of “what order will they wrestle Asuka in?” is a logical question the promotion would have to face, and thus we need to show people that we’ve put thought in in advance as to how we’re going to answer it.”
In the minds of the geniuses at WWE, however, they seem to have started from that same place of realizing that they need to do a Beat The Clock Challenge and said “well, they need to do an interview, so we’ll need someone to interrupt them, and then Graves can suggest the idea because that way it’s coming from someone impartial. OMG do you know what would be great?! How about if we have them wrestle the same person in their Beat The Clock Challenge matches to get over the idea that they’ll both be wrestling the same person on the PPV?! BRILLIANT!
And just like that, something that should have been so simple gets turned into something that not only has all of the flaws that I described above, but also makes the promotion seem like it doesn’t care because not only did they not have an answer ready for what should have been an obvious question, but they went into Smackdown with just THREE matches booked, and NONE in the women’s division! How do you f*ck that up?! I feel like WWE and I have decided to scale this big mountain, and we arrive at the foot of the cliff face and I’m pulling my mountain-climbing equipment out of the car, but WWE’s plan for making it to the top of the mountain is to drive right up to the cliff face and just keep on the gas and hope the car will just start driving up at an 87-degree incline! How he hell do you not see that this is a bad idea?!
BEAT THE CLOCK CHALLENGEL Sasha Banks (w/Bayley) vs. Naomi- 1.5/10
Sasha wins clean in under four minutes.
BEAT THE CLOCK CHALLENGEL Bayley (w/Sasha Banks) vs. Naomi- 1/10
Despite Naomi having already wrestled- and LOST- a match tonight, Bayley, the Smackdown Women’s Champion, lost to her cleanly in two and a half minutes. Champ? More like chump!
As you can imagine, Sasha was very pleased with this result.
POST-MATCH SEGMENT- didn’t like it
Asuka comes out. This would be the same Asuka who is only supposed to be on Raw without a special reason. Sasha ran at her and got knocked out with one kick. Asuka chased Bayley away from the ring. Bayley initially ran past Sasha, but eventually came back to heck on her.
JEFF HARDY IS CLEARED BY THE TRAINER- yay! We have our title match!
Jeff then cut a good promo vowing to win the IC Title tonight.
KAYLA BRAXTON TRIES TO INTERVIEW SONYA DEVILLE- Sonya got a big pop from the crowd, though I assume all of this noise is canned. Sonya told Kayla that anything she has to say t Mandy, she can say in front of the world.
Dana Brooke showed up and said she wanted to express her support for Sonya after “everything has happened this week.” Sonya said it was “nothing I can’t handle,” then slapped Dana in the face for being “disrespectful.” I guess this was their way of trying to keep Sonya from getting cheered, and I guess like that they’re putting the effort in to do that.
SONYA DEVILE PROMO- Instead of hair vs. hair, she says she doesn’t want to ever see Mandy Rose’s face again, so she wants to change their match to a no DQs, loser leaves town match. I think it’s pretty clear why this is happening, and if this is Sonya’s (or Mandy’s for that matter- she was in the house, too) call, then you’ve got to respect that.
Sonya’s promo was great.
NIKKI CROSS PROMO- good for what it was
This aired after a recap of Alexa’s involvement in Braun vs. Fiend. Nikki tells us that Alexa has been different since her abduction by The Fiend. This was basically them pushing the “getting involved with The Fiend changes people” (aside from Goldberg) narrative (although I will point out that calling The Fiend a “corrupting influence” or whatever the idea is doesn’t work because being involved with The Fiend actually turned Daniel Bryan babyface)
DANIEL BRYAN ZOOMS IN TO CUT A PROMO ON AJ STYLES- good
At this point I’ve got to think that they’re building up to an AJ vs. Bryan rematch. I’ve also got to think that Daniel Bryan knows exactly how dumb the “ThunderDome” name is, just based on the way he shouted it while shaking his phone while he said it, and then couldn’t help but smile afterwards.
WWE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE MATCH: AJ Styles(c) vs. Jeff Hardy- 7.75/10
By the time this match rolled around, I had grown used to the ThunderDome. It doesn’t do anything for me, but as long as they keep the image in the seats and don’t have them on the Tron like they did during the opening segment, I’ll be able to live with it.
The story of the match was what you’d expect. Jeff’s selling of his knee was tremendous. Whoever came up with this finish is a genius. The idea of AJ being maybe knocked out by a flailing knee strike with the knee brace from Jeff to counter the Styles Clash is poetic justice, while also giving the heel an out to demand a rematch and claimed Jeff cheated… but having Jeff hit a Twist of Fate and a Swanton before getting the pin allows Jeff fans (and Michael Cole) to argue that it wasn’t the knee brace that put AJ down but rather Jeff’s usual combination of big moves.
Eleven minutes is a little disappointing for a main event, but I thought it worked perfectly here because 1) the shorter match made Jeff’s survival with such a bad knee injury feel more credible, and 2) the shortness of the match can be used to argue that AJ actually was knocked out, as all of his recent matches have gone longer than this, and those were matches where AJ came out on top, so he clearly usually has more in his tank. I also can’t help but notice that the combination of the length of the match and the story created a reason for them to no give away too much here in the first match of what is clearly going to be a series of at least two.
After Jeff won, they cut to a close-up of several fans, none of whom seemed very excited.
KAYLA BRAXTON INTERVIEWS JEFF HARDY- great babyface promo. He was eventually cut off by his won music playing, and we rushed to a plug for a Firefly Funhouse.
AJ STYLES YELLS AT JOSEPH PARK AND KAYLA BRAXTON BACKSTGE- good heel stuff, yelling at innocent people and complaining about the knee brace
Bray talked about love being a negative thing in quantities that were too large, and said that it only leads to “pain and suffering.” He then had a hand-phone conversation with probably The Fiend because the hand he was using had the “hurt” glove on it.
We cut to Huskus the Pig and Ramblin’ Rabbit playing Braun Strowman and Alexa Bliss! from last week, they went “off-script,” as Bray’s puppets always seem to do. He yelled at them.
He started talking about SummerSlam, but was interrupted by Braun Strowman running into the Firefly funhouse and attacking him. Braun beat him up off-screen, then dragged him away, and we went to a commercial break. When we got back from the break, Cole and Graves pitched us to a “major brawl” happening backstage between Braun and Bray. This means that the Firefly Funhouse is just some random stupid set that travels around with WWE rather than some far-away location that Bray teleports to, which should kill any mystique this thing might have had left, because it turns it into an in-house production that probably has WWE camera operators and production crew working on it, just like everything else.
But of course WWE hasn’t put any thought into that because Graves tells us that “somehow, Braun Strowman was able to infiltrate the Firefly Funhouse, this bizarre almost parallel universe that we haven’t been able to find the entrance to.”
First of all, if anything, the Firefly Funhouse is a pocket dimension, not a parallel universe. We have gotten no hint that anyone exists in the universe of the Firefly Funhouse other than locations that have suited Bray’s purposes at that moment. While this doesn’t disprove the idea that there is a whole universe out there, but the Occam’s Razor explanation (and I can’t believe I’m using that term in reference to these things) seems to me to be that Bray magicked everything he needed for that atrocity with John Cena at WrestleMania into existence in a pocket dimension where he is nigh-omnipotent rather than him going to the store and buying all of the stuff and renting out an empty arena to put a wrestling ring in.
Secondly… SOMEHOW? If they were there a few minutes ago and now they’re fighting backstage, it’s obviously a room he just walked into! And if the answer is that Bray woke up and teleported them to the arena while Braun was dragging him away, SHOW THAT ON TV!
Graves then posited that Braun might have learned how to access the Firefly Funhouse do having spent so much time with Bray over the years. My initial thought upon hearing this was that Braun had left Bray well before Bray started dabbling in this crap, but I’ll give WWE a large amount of benefit of the doubt and say that we don’t know how long Bray has been dabbling in this for. And that just got me more frustrated because it shows the laziness of WWE’s approach.
Because that got me thinking about the implications of The Fiend and the Firefly Funhouse having been around for longer than we thought. If Braun knows how to access this dimension, then what about Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, who were with Bray for longer? Can I construct a head-canon where Luke Harper and Brodie Lee are actually the same person? The Dark Order does seem rather similar to the initial presentation of the Wyatt Family in NXT, with Bray claiming to speak and help the downtrodden, who are the same people Brodie Lee is preying upon. Okay… can’t go down that road right now. It’s 1:23 PM on Sunday. There are less than six hours until SummerSlam starts and I still haven’t finished Smackdown, never mind seen TakeOver (and, of course, there is AEW to watch and wXw to catch up on, plus maybe New Japan if I feel like it).
The point is, what did that mean for anything else Bray has done? Was there actually anything special about the “Wyatt Compound” that Randy Orton burned down? Is the Firefly Funhouse dimension really the source of Bray’s evil powers? Was that swamp where they had their “Swamp Fight” in the Firefly Funhouse Dimension? How does that angle where Bray seemed like he was going to “turn into Sister Abigail” play into any of this?
I’m not saying that all of these questions need to be answered. I’m not even saying that I wouldn’t allow something like the “turning into Sister Abigail” angle or that terrible match with Randy Orton in the haunted house to not be connected in any way other than just being a manifestation of Bray’s powers here in our dimension. But if this was Lucha Underground of CHIKARA, you know that we would at least be shown Braun doing the dark ritual to allow him to travel to the Firefly Funhouse universe, and that that ritual would involve at least one element that we had seen years ago. Maybe Braun has to get one of those “crusyx” things that Randy Orton stabbed Sister Abigail’s grave with before burning down the Wyatt Compound and do something with it in order to travel between universes. Maybe the magic phrase to travel between dimensions is “let me in.” If you want me to believe that the reason Braun can travel to the Firefly Funhouse is that he has spent so much time with Bray and learned how, YOU NEED TO SHOW ME SOMETHING THAT MAKES ME THINK THAT THIS WAS PART OF A LONG-TERM PLAN.
I’m not saying that you have to have had everything planned for years and years. Hell, if you were already planning on doing this segment and only think of a way to do that on the morning of the tapings and throw it together all in one day, then more power to you. But doing it the way WWE did here makes it feel like they put no thought into anything and Graves is just bullsh*tting an answer on the fly. Show; don’t tell.
Anyway, in the back, Braun grabbed Bray and despite the pleading of referees and company officials (as if that ever works), Braun chokeslammed him through an open door, and Bray fell out of the frame. This was one of those spots that shows that WWE is so far beyond AEW and especially NXT in filming stunt-bumps in a way that doesn’t immediately make me think “the reason we’re not seeing Bray hit the ground is because there’s a crash-pad there.”
So for this stunt bump to be seen the way they wanted, there was clearly a camera in the room where Bray got chokeslammed into, looking up at them as Bray falls… but the moment they want this to feel like a “real” situation, with people worried that Bray might be seriously injured, we’ve go to get the shot of the camera from where Braun (and everyone else had been), looking down at Bray as he is being ended to by officials, and we ‘ve got to see that camera rushing down the stairs to get a closer shot. You cannot transition from one to the other on the same show, because doing so exposes that there is an editorial choice being made, which exposes that everything happening is preplanned.
Fortunately, Braun happened to chokeslam Bray about thirty feet from an ambulance, so at least they’ll be able to get him some medical help quickly enough. Also fortunately, Bray apparently managed to avoid hitting his head on the concrete floor- or at least if he did, he didn’t do so hard enough to make him bleed.
We spend a bunch of time watching the evil bastard who has been terrorizing people for months and has turned so many of our heroes against us being loaded into an ambulance. I’m not saying that’s not the right thing to do, but I will say that the emotional connection that would be there if this was a babyface- or even just some poor schlub undercard heel like Akira Tozawa- getting stretchered off isn’t really there, so this was more boring than it was anything else.
They send the ambulance off, but it only goes about twenty feet before stopping, and then starting to back up. Then the inside of the ambulance turned red. Then we panned around to see the gathered road agents react with shock, then completed our 360 to see the ambulance doors open and The Fiend standing there, none the worse for wear… which means that everything we just saw won’t affect the SummerSlam match one bit, so thanks for wasting my time, assholes!
This was another bad episode of Smackdown, with the AJ Styles and Jeff Hardy stuff being the only saving grace. Well… that and the fact that they actually did manage to hold themselves to just one dirty finish in five matches.
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Hold #712: ARM BAR!
FIP in 2005
PWG All-Star Weekend V: Night 2
DGUSA Open the Northern Gate
CHIKARA Hot Off the Griddle
FIP in 2005
PWG All-Star Weekend V: Night 2
DGUSA Open the Northern Gate
CHIKARA Hot Off the Griddle
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