Shane McMahon opened Smackdown Live this week, alone in the ring (with the weird blood money trophy he won in Saudi Arabia), to a chorus of boos. I’ve always said that there should be no babyface McMahons, and that Shane’s “cool boss” gimmick is just an onscreen version of the kind of “no we don’t offer benefits, but we have cold brew on tap” backwards cap corporate greed we’re seeing more and more of in the 2010s.
So I should be happy that he’s finally just admitting to being a bad guy. But this is at the expense of the Miz being a heel, which wounds me deeply. I might have been okay with Shane taking that fun, dancing, “I’m not a regular boss, we’re like family” schtick, and just making it as cluelessly heelish as it is in real life, but now I just feel deprived of heel Miz.
The New Day Mean Business
Aleister Black and Ricochet teamed up with the newly reunited Hardyz against The Bar, as well as Rusev and Nakamura. These four teams haven’t quite figured out their chemistry yet, but Black and Ricochet continue to impress. A quick exchange between Black and Nakamura had me fantasizing about a singles match just between the two of them. And right as I realized the original Hardyz look has come back into fashion, which sent me deep into an existential crisis about aging, the New Day ran in to get their revenge against the Bar, Nakamura, and Rusev for the beatdowns they suffered at Fastlane!
While Smackdown Tag Champs the Usos were absent from the ring, we did get one of their lovely rhyming promos from what I gather is the spooky basement of the Uso Penitentiary. The next challengers for their belts could be anyone.
Randy Orton vs AJ Styles Confirmed for Wrestlemania
Randall Orton and Alvin? Alfred? Alex? Albert? Alan Jones Styles have beef because Randy is a spoiled WWE legacy, while AJ is a short bingo hall old man. Natural enemies. They exchanged barbs in the ring and made a match for Wrestlemania. It’s a pretty clichéd angle, and neither of these guys is exactly my cup of tea, but the promos were well written and well delivered. It worked for me! (Orton telling Styles that he’s “the landlord” got me fired up. AJ Styles please fight for tenants’ rights!)
Asuka Beat Sonya Deville With Help From Mandy Rose
Presumably as revenge for Deville messing up her chance for Asuka’s Smackdown Women’s Championship, Mandy Rose caused her best friend to trip and lose her match. I am miserable about Asuka’s current storyline. Now that WWE seems to be excited about using managers again, there’s absolutely no excuse to overlook performers just because they can’t do complex mic work in English. The real story here was between Deville and Rose, whose friendship may be in trouble.
My favorite orange Australians, the IIconics, popped onscreen afterwards to challenge Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection to a match. Which is something I would love to see! But there is still no challenger or storyline in sight for Asuka. (Once again, any suggestion of Lacy Evans in this role will be met by me calling 911.)
The Man Seems to Be Losing Steam
Judging from the relatively lackluster response Becky Lynch got from the audience when she limped to the ring this week, stretching this angle out for so long might be taking its toll on crowds’ excitement. Becky threw her crutch away and cut a cute promo about “how hard it is to play mind games with a girl with no brain,” but the wait for this match is just starting to feel awkward. Maybe it’s just that the crowd’s energy was off, but Becky Lynch feeling “cute” again rather than “badass” or “brutal” concerns me. “Cute” feels completely off the mark for the Man.
Charlotte’s promo about being the queen felt similarly phoned in by whoever wrote it. Its spot in the show marked it very clearly as the B-plot of the episode, which worries me!
Rey Mysterio Is the Coolest, Also Pinned Samoa Joe
Every time Rey Mysterio’s music hits, I feel like I’m being surprised with a gift. It’s really a privilege to watch him work. He and R-Truth had a solid match against Andrade and Samoa Joe. Like I said in my Fastlane review, I could watch these four wrestle forever. Samoa Joe freaked out after losing — this has to be building to an Intercontinental Championship match with at least Mysterio and Joe at Wrestlemania.
Are Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali a Team Now?
Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali faced WWE Champion Daniel Bryan and his large friend Rowan for the second week in a row.
Hold on… When did Erick Rowan lose his first name? Did I just not notice? I’m not sure what significance this held (other than it being a continuation of the Fastlane triple threat Owens, Ali and Bryan had). Was it a little bit of a letdown after such a good PPV match? Sure, but I can’t complain about Kevin Owens stomping around a ring and shouting “THIS IS MY SHOW” in his opponent’s face. The match ended when Rowan pinned Ali.
I’m not sure if they’re going to stick with Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali as allies, have them feud with each other, or what. But I like the pair’s chemistry together. Kevin Owens has a proven track record as a good tag team partner and rival to pure of heart, high-flying babyfaces.
The New Day Made Me Cry
Finally, after commentary promised all episode that Vince McMahon would offer Kofi Kingston a Wrestlemania opportunity, the weird-walking, roided-out old man himself met face-to-face with the New Day in the ring. And each member of the New Day pleaded Kofi’s case.
The most effective wrestling promo is a perfect blend of excellent writing and excellent delivery — backed up by the truth. This segment was scripted, but it was also real; the emotion was real, everything about what the New Day does for the company and what Kofi Kingston has given to WWE was real. The sanitized corporate dismissiveness in Vince’s explanation that although Kofi is “an extraordinary representative of [the] product,” he’s still just a “B-plus player” was chillingly real. The contrast between Big E, Kofi and Xavier’s emotions and Vince’s coldness was pitch-perfect. I cried a couple of times. I’m starting to cry now just thinking about it. (Yup. Crying.)
Finally, Vince McMahon decided that Kofi Kingston will get a chance at a championship match with Daniel Bryan — if he can defeat the gauntlet of Randy Orton, Samoa Joe, both members of the Bar, and Rowan next week. It’s so WWE. Which is to say it’s not remotely original. Remember when they did this exact same thing with… Bryan himself? But the reality of Kofi Kingston’s 11 years of being so talented, so hard-working, so commercially successful, and so overlooked can no longer be denied.
At this precise moment, I want Kofi Kingston to win the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania more than I want most of the things in my life that I actually need.