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Alex Rants On: SmackDown, December 27, 2016

SmackDown this week was a great show, but even the best of WWE programs has its flaws. Here's what succeeded and what didn't...

This week’s episode was much better than RAW, and was probably the best SmackDown of the entire year...

Watching SmackDown this week, I felt like I had gone back in time to 2002. At that time, RAW was the drama and story-centric show, with lots of promos and repetitive and meaningless matches.

SmackDown, meanwhile, was the wrestling show, where the new stars were given a chance to show off their skills and the entire show structure was centred around actual wrestling matches.

This week, we’ll look not only at some of the flaws in SmackDown’s booking, but also look at what worked well for this brand, and what RAW should be doing to make that show feel like less of a drag.

And without further ado, let the rant begin.

This week featured the final SmackDown of 2016, and SmackDown destroyed RAW in virtually every important metric. SmackDown had the better matches. It also had the better promos, because they were fewer in number and heavier in long-term importance.

It even had the better crowd, because they were far more into everything that happened on SmackDown than the RAW audience, who were dead silent during some segments and matches. When the ratings come out later this week, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if SmackDown beats RAW in a big way.

So what does all of this mean? Well, it proves that many things about RAW are being done incorrectly. The way the show is structured, the content, and even the flow are all executed poorly, while SmackDown did everything right this week to end the year on a high note.

If you ever needed undeniable proof that RAW’s repetitive structure, overly-scripted atmosphere, and the heavy involvement of the McMahons (both on-screen and behind the scenes) were all bad things, this was it. RAW has always been known to be Vince’s baby, so he puts more focus on that show than any other.

It would seem that, the less of his touch he puts on something, the better it gets.

There was an inkling of this theory being true with the Cruiserweight Classic, which was produced entirely by Triple H. That tournament was spectacular and offered high hopes for the rebirthed Cruiserweight Division. As soon as Vince put his hands on that division, its flow, popularity and uniqueness all disappeared.

SmackDown this week was further proof of that. It felt like a wrestling show that centred around three critical matches and one important promo. In this case, the ‘less is more’ mentality paid off, with SmackDown being so much better than RAW.

SmackDown’s opening promo featured the much-anticipated return of John Cena to television, and it wasn’t one of his ‘scripted’ promos where he makes childish jokes and acts like a buffoon. It was a serious promo mixed in with some digs at his vocal opponents.

It left the audience excited for more, as it left fans speculating exactly why Cena was back. He hasn’t addressed the Undertaker rumours directly, nor has he given a specific explanation as to what he is going to be doing in the future, or how long he is back.

It still amazes me how Cena and WWE didn’t get sued by Pabst Blue Ribbon over that shirt...

The only issue with this promo is its ramifications. Cena said that all this ‘New Era’ stuff was BS and that he wanted to make the show about him again. Whether this was meant to be just a scripted line or a dig at the fans that are vocally critical of him, it begs some concern.

Does this mean that Cena will once again be in the main event spotlight? If so, that’s a bit of a problem.

We’ve seen Cena thrust into the main event picture time and again for over a decade, with little in terms of novelty or long-term success as a result. Cena wanting to be in the main event scene on SmackDown can only cause WWE more problems down the road, as the promotion is once again relying on an ageing performer that reached his peak years ago, to carry the brand.

This is something SmackDown cannot afford to let happen. If Cena’s on top again, it’ll prove once more that the current roster cannot be trusted to carry the brand, and once more WWE will have problems selling tickets in the future, as fans would be convinced no one on the roster is bigger than John Cena.

It would make much more sense for WWE to let AJ Styles and the other new group of wrestlers develop the brand further, while putting Cena in a veteran’s role, similar to what New Japan has done with Hiroshi Tanahashi, a man that resembles Cena in terms of popularity, appeal, and booking in many respects.

SmackDown then shifted to its first of three title matches, the Four Corners Elimination Tag Team Match for the SmackDown Tag Team Titles. It featured four teams fighting for Championships in a match that lasted 25 minutes. The match itself was very exciting with many believable near-falls and genuine surprises.

The audience was into it, and everything about the match felt either new or novel so that the audience wasn’t bored or subject to something they’d already seen before.

The only true grievance I have with this match is that the title change occurred without much build. If you’ve read my work before, you’ll know that I am not a fan of sudden title exchanges and short Championship reigns. The Wyatts won the belts only a few short weeks ago, and now, suddenly, American Alpha are the Champions.

There was little time to build up American Alpha as truly viable contenders that could win, nor did the Wyatts have a lengthy reign to show why they deserved to be Champions. If titles exchange hands so frequently and without build, they’re devalued and previous wins mean nothing.

Bray simply cannot seem to catch a break. Maybe it’s the dreadlocks!

That said, American Alpha finally achieved a major victory on SmackDown after being something of a second fiddle to the other teams. Now that they’re the Champions, the division can be built around them, which is a good sign for the future.

SmackDown’s following hype promos were all centred around what was to come later on in the show. First, the announcers hyped the main event, and then Ziggler did the same for his performance. In both cases, they were succinct, serious, and determined to convince the audience not to miss this match.

This was very well done. However, let’s be honest, Ziggler has fallen into that same pattern whereby he cuts deep, emotional promos, but doesn’t deliver anything truly new to his matches. 

At this point on both shows, each one had a women’s match. SmackDown’s was a 14-minute Championship match that allowed both women to put on a competitive bout that could’ve led to either one winning. Given the surprise of the earlier tag team match, there was more drama in this match than normal.

Both women did well in this match, but have had better matches both against each other and with other opponents. Bliss is improving quite well, and she’s doing a great job as a heel champion. Lynch needs a new opponent, just to freshen things up.

After the match on SmackDown, we shifted to one of the most shocking and realistic feuds in place right now, which stems from the Miz revealing Renee Young’s romance with Dean Ambrose. When he first spoke about it and she slapped him, it was done perfectly because it’s one of those stories that blend fiction with reality.

Miz is playing the annoying jerk to a T, while Renee & Ambrose want revenge on him for disturbing their private lives. This feud continued this past week, with Ambrose attacking Miz after Renee tried to interview him again.

The Miz has officially become the most despised character on SmackDown. Someone give him a medal!

This has potential as a good feud for both men. ‘Wacky’ Dean Ambrose has been something of a mixed bag. Dean Ambrose can be great when presented with material that makes sense.

As for the Miz, he’s still SmackDown’s top heel bar none, and now he’s proving that even more by bringing someone else’s personal life into the forefront of a storyline. This makes total sense and has the potential to make for many great angles and matches down the road.

There was another promo on SmackDown featuring Nikki Bella. She was there to answer to Natalya’s ‘bitch’ promo from last week. This was probably the only weak point of an otherwise excellent SmackDown, as apparently there wasn’t enough time to follow-up on this storyline.

Had there even been a shock attack from Natalya or even a stare-down between them, this would’ve been a much better segment.

Next, we moved to the main event, which was the Triple Threat match for the WWE World Championship. I should point out that Styles received a huge ovation, despite being a heel. That should tell you that fans love him simply because of how good of a wrestler he is.

This was a great match that featured a lot of excellent wrestling psychology and double team spots. Many of those moments were double team attacks against Baron Corbin, with the two smaller wrestlers double-teaming him throughout the match.

The crowd loved everything in this match, booed at the right times (though not always at Styles) and made the match feel bigger. It was a great way for SmackDown to end. After the match ended, John Cena came down and stared down AJ Styles. It then became official: John Cena vs. A.J. Styles for the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble. 

All in all, there wasn’t much to rant about during this episode of SmackDown. In fact, most of the show had positives that overshadowed a few glaring negatives. But these minor issues didn’t take away from the fact that SmackDown this week was excellent.

Let’s just hope that the powers-that-be in WWE don’t take SmackDown’s superiority this week as a threat, and then decide to cripple it with bad writing so that RAW still stays the superior show. They’d never harm their own product to satisfy their own egos…would they?

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