Monday, September 12, 2016

Gorilla Position: Smackdown's BACKLASH Pay-Per-View

Last night the blue brand held their inaugural pay-per-view event and it was a blast. It's fairly apparent that Smackdown is being pushed as the wrestling show, much more than it is a sports entertainment show (that's RAW's job) but it is also turning out to be the far more sports-entertaining show. The PPV is the culmination of several storylines they've been building over the live shows since the Brand split, which is in my opinion one of the best things to have happened to the WWE in the last couple of years. Incredibly solid storytelling was done throughout the night, everything was kept at the perfect length, nothing dragged on too long, and no filler was paraded in front of us. I think all the right results happened, and I'm very excited for what happens next. Shane McMahon calls this The New Era, so far I refer to it as the "I can't believe this" era. I'll be starting each section with what I can't believe.

Here We Go...

The Women's Six-Pack Elimination Challenge for the Smackdown Women's Championship
Becky Lynch VS. Natalya VS. Naomi VS. Alexa Bliss VS. Carmella VS. Nikki Bella

I can't believe they managed to book a multi-person women's match that wasn't a clusterfuck. I also can't believe how well everyone did.

We finally got to see a glimpse of what Alexa Bliss could do, and it was great to have her and Naomi dominate the early going. I had completely forgotten that Naomi was capable of anything she did in the match. Yeah, pretty obvious botch with the head-scissors to Nattie to the outside, but good lord she must've been pretty winded by that point. I can't remember the last time I saw a multi-woman match going into double digits for time. But she still put on a good show, and got good appreciation when she was eliminated. Alexa looked great even going out first. The Harley look was badass, and she looked like a great opportunist throughout. I loved the failed attempt sequence of pinning the three downed women in the ring and her growing frustration and failing to eliminate any of the trio.

The match also used everyone quite effectively to move each other's stories forward. Naomi and Nattie workhorsed the early half, and could easily be in a feud coming out of it, but just as valid is for one of them to be paired against Alexa, because they used her so well to give some shine to Naomi. Then the feud of Carmella and Nikki Bella got furthered, with the two focusing mostly on each other.

I find their feud quite interesting, because looks-wise, Carmella is much like the Bella's Diva-era counterparts. She's still quite limited in the ring. So to pair her against Nikki, who is easily the most improved women's wrestler out there, it's a great contrast. Carmella relates most to Nikki, and so is set to take her out and prove herself. Nikki can carry her through a feud as a much improved worker.

This is also how you weave characters together without over-exposing match-ups too soon. Carmella was so good as a heel against Nikki that when she finally eliminated Nikki, everyone was ready for Becky to destroy her. In one moment, you have advanced two storylines for three different wrestlers, instead of immediately pairing off one set of wrestlers and having them exchange wins over several shows. Instead, we got the excitement of Carmella having a chance at the belt even though storyline-wise we know she's going after Nikki. They managed to do similar things throughout the night last night with other matches, and actually Smackdown has done a beautiful job of weaving storylines throughout multiple people in the roster, so that it doesn't feel like RAW, where only one storyline in the main event seems to hold any attention.

And of course, it practically goes without saying, congrats to Becky Lynch! She deserves this, and the crowd responded as such. Her win was great, and I'm so proud to have her as the inaugural Women's champion on Smackdown.

Winner: Becky Lynch
MVP: Naomi
Rating: 6/10

Last-Chance Match in the Tag Team Tournament Finals to Challenge the Tournament Winners
Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley, The Hype Bros VS. Jimmy and Jey, The Usos

I can't believe how good the Usos are as heels. I can't believe how much I wanted Zack Ryder to win.

This is my first real experience seeing the Hype Bros in action, and they were really fantastic. Zack needs to find that groove of charisma he was in at his height of popularity, because he's The Hitman of this pairing. Mojo functions as the hype dog, as the enforcer. And he's playing that part perfectly. Ryder needs to not hang back, because I feel like that's what he's relegating himself to at the moment. That being said, these two put up a good fight, but they were functioning as victims for the newly turned Usos, who were spectacular as heels.

I don't know if I'm mad that they waited so long to turn the Usos heel, because it was worth it. But in just one night, they've were more interesting to me than they have been in three years. They were cocky, rude, but also still a great tag team, outsmarting the Hype Bros several times throughout their match that could have so easily been such a throwaway. I love heel Usos.

That's also something I really enjoy about the Smackdown shows so far. There's almost no wasted movement. Some filler here and there, but most of it is ultimately meaningful. This match could have been relegated to a cool-down before the lengthy Intercontinental defense, but it was instead a strong final hurrah for the tag team tournament before the finals. Kudos all around.

Winners: The Usos
Rating: 6/10

Singles Match for the Intercontinental Championship
Champion The Miz VS. Dolph Ziggler

I can't believe how good of a match this was and it was more thanks to Miz than to Dolph.

It's hard to get invested in a Dolph Ziggler feud anymore. We know he's now someone brought in to sustain the push of the person with the momentum. Right now, that person is The Miz. And even though we've seen these two fight a couple times before, this match impressed me more than anything I've ever seen from either of them. This could be one of my favorite Dolph matches now, and certainly my favorite Miz match. Dolph pushed Miz outside of his comfort zone. We got to see Miz deliver on the promises he made against Daniel Bryan. He'd be a face after that amazing promo last week.

But Miz is ultimately a heel, and a fantastic one at that. Besides being a great talker and a great heel, he's also got a great valet in Maryse. They make a great team, and Maryse helped Miz retain his title. It was wonderful to see the Intercontinental title get such a long match on a PPV in a big spot. And I'm glad also that Miz retained. I'm looking forward to an extended heel run with the IC title, like a Honky Tonk Man style reign. I think more people are starting to see in Miz what some people have long known: he is better than we give him credit for, for many, many reasons. He deserves this, and I can't wait for the weekly show to see his ego go through the roof after beating an audience favorite in Dolph Ziggler.

Winner: The Miz (with interference from Maryse)
Rating: 8/10

Singles Match
Randy Orton VS. Bray Wyatt

I can't believe they made this work. I can't believe I enjoyed a Kane match.

I can believe Wyatt lost. (Okay, some things are much slower to change, even in this New Era.)

It came out earlier in the day that Orton was still nursing an injury from Summerslam and it was possible he wasn't going to be able to compete. We got an insert video of Wyatt brutalizing Orton backstage before a ref shoos him off. Then when we got to the match, Wyatt insisted on a countout which referee Robinson hesitantly obliged. As he was leaving, it was announced he was going to compete anyway, and out came the Demon Kane.

I was initially disappointed by this but they actually had a surprisingly good back and forth for being a cool-off match. I did have to laugh at one point because they reference the history between Wyatt and Kane, and I couldn't help thinking, "Oh, the history that ultimately led nowhere?" Yeah, the Wyatts kidnap Kane, we're all thinking to convert him, but he's off TV a couple weeks and shows up again like nothing happened. Well, maybe not nothing. Now he can suddenly switch between corporate Kane and Demon Kane at will, but also as if one personality is not aware of the other? Basically, like Wyatt's speeches, it became overly complicated for no reason.

Of course, the match was no holds barred so that when Orton inevitably came out to a hero's welcome to deliver an RKO to Wyatt to end the match, it all stayed legal. Wyatt's record for the evening goes to 1-1.

I know people are lately exhausted by Wyatt's gimmick and his resulting record. He has promoted himself as a leader, as the Eater of Worlds, as the new face of fear, as the man who could turn Cena, as the destroyer of stars, and delivered on none of these promises. The closest he got was converting Daniel Bryan for two weeks and stalling the hottest act in the industry. But last night, I kind of realized, maybe this is his gimmick? He always says "follow the buzzards." Buzzards are birds of prey, but some are scavengers, carrion scavengers. So Bray comes in like a bottom feeder to attack someone at their worst: Cena is vulnerable after losing to Lesnar, Undertaker is vulnerable after losing his streak to Lesnar, Orton is split open and TKO'd after WAIT A MINUTE. Is Bray Wyatt just Brock Lesnar's bottom feeder!? Kind of an amazing gimmick, if you ask me.

Would I prefer Wyatt be a more credible, monster heel? Yes. But since they seem to not want to, I want them to lean into the skid of what they've stumbled upon instead. Wyatt is all talk and a bottom feeder. His next feud should be Ziggler, after Ziggler lost so convincingly for the World Championship, and now has immediately lost at the IC title too.

Something else I really am getting a kick out from Smackdown too is that initially, it seemed like they were throwing Smackdown under the bus, drafting so many "older" acts. But Orton's relegated to special attraction matches at the moment, and Cena has yet to really have a presence outside of the Styles feud. Which is fantastic use of both of them. And this was even a fantastic use of Kane. Other acts are taking the spotlight and while they haven't quite found the right groove to rehabilitate Bray Wyatt yet, after this rather interesting match from last night, I'm actually confident the blue brand will find a way.

Winner: Bray / KaneRating: 4/10 overall

Tag Team Tournament Finals for the Smackdown Tag Team Championships
Rhyno and Heath Slater VS. Jimmy and Jey, The Usos

I can't believe Smackdown found a way to make me care about a comedy act.

This is how you do comedy. You make us care about the characters. I got invested in Heath since the Draft where he wasn't picked at all. He's been back and forth on the two shows since then, doing some of the most entertaining work of his career. I haven't seen him so good since the RAW 1000 celebrations, where he was taking on veteran after veteran and losing.

Heath and Rhyno made a great tag team and looked fantastic while doing it. They were paired against an overly confident Uso tandem that made them look like a million bucks, selling offense I couldn't remember Heath ever doing because I haven't seen him in a real match in forever, and selling the Gore like crazy (USO CRAZY),

These two deserve it. They've been in the most entertaining segments on Smackdown for the past few weeks and their match was absolutely solid here.


Winners: Heath Slater and Rhyno
Best Moment: Post-match interview, Heath says, "This is the best night of my career. No. I'm-I'm serious." He meant it, guys.
Rating: 8/10

Singles Match for the WWE World Championship
Champion Dean Ambrose VS. AJ Styles

I can't believe our main event has AJ Styles in it. I CAN'T BELIEVE AJ STYLES IS CHAMPION.

I actually very much enjoyed Dean's run as champ. I think it's ending at the right time. The payoff to his run as champ was to best Seth and Roman, which he's done in convincing fashion, so there wasn't much more to do after that, except to build him up (with a win against Ziggler) to prop up the World Championship's prominence before handing it off to the next star.

Since Styles debuted at the Rumble, he's been gathering momentum like nothing else. It was completely unexpected by possibly everyone, even us who were fans. There was just no guarantee that he was going to catch on with the general audience. But to pair him against Cena is such a great formula, because it can use all the same beats as Cena/Bryan, but Styles has an incredibly decorated career that legitimizes him like nothing else. So now with the momentum of defeating Cena on the rather grandiose stage of Summerslam, he goes in with the better win against Ambrose.

To see this match actually happen, I can see now the problem with Ambrose. Putting aside anything else he did in the indies, Ambrose doesn't really do a whole lot in the WWE. Which is interesting to think about how he criticized Lesnar for limiting their match together. Ambrose had an opportunity to wow here, in some form or another, but he was simply outclassed by AJ Styles beat after beat after beat. Styles is quite simply a superior performer. Ambrose had a good run, and he's going to remain massively popular, considering what he's already weathered and remained as such since the Shield breakup. So I'm fine with this. The match was as great as it was I firmly believe because of Styles throwing himself into it full throttle. The slingshot on the apron into the ring post looked scary as hell.

And I'm very excited for AJ. I can't believe Kevin Owens and AJ Styles are the champions of the two brands. And Shinsuke Nakamura is the NXT champion? Like, what the hell is happening. I can't believe this is WWE right now.

Winner: AJ Styles
Rating: 9/10 

RAW, you got a lot to live up to.