Two hours worth of pre-recorded WWE Smackdown, whether by providing the missing link to various feuds, or just better matches as a whole, has worked wonders to make this Sunday’s Hell in a Cell much more intriguing. Almost a masterclass in everything that should happen on Raw, instead of consisting primarily of soap opera promos over the course of a tiresome three hours. Sure, it’s plain as day that it is a regular occurrence that it is over produced, with the audience reaction touched up. For example, the habit of “New Day Rocks” and “New Day Sucks” alternating between Raw and Smackdown, as well as the magically disappearing heat that Roman Reigns received post-Royal Rumble 2015. However, there were traits left, right and centre that it is a pity that we see so rarely on Raw, let alone in one episode, and I am not even sure that I trust to happen again at Hell in a Cell. It is no surprise that Raw is regularly accused of being nothing more than an advertisement for the following PPV.
I’m almost regretting writing Hell in a Cell predictions earlier this week, simply on the grounds that this fantastic, packed episode somewhat neutralized some feuds that felt so predictable as one half had too many losses not to get the triumphant final win. Now, we might not be able to be so sure. Here is how Smackdown got just about everything right this week in hyping up just about everything that isn’t in the cell itself this Sunday.
Rollins shakes off the soap opera of Raw, in an awesome victory against Cesaro
On Raw, in spite of a victory over Ryback, the central focus of Rollins’ booking was being talked into the ground by Shawn Michaels, and being too much of a coward to hang around in the final match of the night. On Smackdown however, while he toyed with going on the run once more from the Demon Kane (or as I prefer to call him, Kane). These are two men who have a miserable reputation, so either result was bound to be disappointing, so long as the match wasn’t brilliant. As it turned out however, it was brilliant. These are two that are in desperate need of a feud with one another before Reigns and Rollins find their way back to each other for their inevitable high-profile singles match in the future. If anything did sadden me though, it was the lack of a ‘Cesaro Section’. The three-man ‘Stardust Section’ at ringside with A5 sheets of paper was quite depressing.
Speaking of Cesaro losing, that may not have been a bad choice after all, because…
All of a sudden, the result of pre-show six-man tag match isn’t so predictable
This might just be one of the most intuitive last-minute bookings (needed after Randy Orton dislocated his shoulder, putting him out of action) that WWE have achieved in quite some time, although this couldn’t quite have worked without Raw and Smackdown working hand-in-hand. On Raw, a victory to Cesaro, Neville and Ziggler signified straight away that their rematch would neutralize the feud with a victory to Rusev, King Barrett and Sheamus. After all, all three heels need it. The Bulgarian beast has been reduced to comedy, King Barrett never seems to win anything, and Mr Money in the Bank Sheamus needs to look far more imposing than he has been. Unfortunately, he just looks stupid (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap).
However, Smackdown saw the (eh-hem) smackdown laid upon Cesaro and Ziggler (more on the latter in a minute), and a victory for King Barrett and Sheamus. Their tag team match against The Lucha Dragons could have been much better had it been longer, but with what little time they had, Barrett and Sheamus got additional heat, and of course the Dragons had some beautiful spots. This feud already seems somewhat neutralized, and so we go into the pre-show slightly less sure of where this is headed.
A surprise appearance was actually used to good effect
This almost seems unfair. On Raw, there were guest appearances from absolute legends of the industry, with Austin’s glass shattering to start Raw for the first time in years, with Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels on premises too. Unfortunately, Austin disappeared within three minutes, Flair was there primarily to shout “woo!” at Bray Wyatt, and Michaels to insult fan favourite Rollins. It just goes to show that no matter what Creative try, fans just can’t turn their backs on Rollins.
Sure, that must have been amazing in person, but for those watching at home, Smackdown had a far more intriguing and entertaining appearance from outta nowhere – NXT’s Tyler Breeze. However excruciating it was to hear the underwhelmed “who is that?” from commentary, and the fact that anyone over the age of 14 sounds in place using the words “selfie stick”. Either way, he is here, and brought some NXT and “Tyler’s gorgeous” chants with him too. Could a Miz TV segment when ‘Prince Pretty’ took a selfie stick to Ziggler have just functioned as a better promo for Cena’s US Open Challenge this week? The goofiness of this segment might put this in doubt, but considering how Ziggler is already occupied in the pre-show, this might just signify an #MMMGORGEOUS match-up between Cena and Breeze this Sunday.
The Divas used to as decent an effect that the main roster programming might allow… for now
The ‘promotion’ of the NXT women has been infuriating. The soap opera of bitchiness all over Raw seems to continue with a bonus few minutes in a singles match, and if you are lucky, a three-minute tag team match, functioning less for the wrestlers in the ring, but for a guest wrestler, presumably Paige, at the commentary table explaining her ordeal.
On Smackdown however, the Divas got a good solid quarter of an hour, with what used to be the central feud of the division (Nikki Bella vs Paige. Did anyone ever think they would be happy to see that again?) demoted to the secondary show. This could be brilliant, showing that a new feud can take the primary spot on Raw. On the other hand, for all we know at this time, the Divas might have been dumped to Smackdown and the whiny promos left at Raw. Either way, I am more intrigued than I expected to be. There are perpetual complaints about the misuse of the alleged ‘revolution’, but the fact that something is visibly brewing, means that there is an off-chance after all that there will be a Diva feud that for once actually calls for a grand finale, hopefully beyond just sabotaging a PPV match.
And ever since Becky Lynch’s furious bout with Sasha Banks at NXT Takeover: Unstoppable, it has always been fun to see Lynch particularly hacked off.
Kevin Owens just keeps getting better
As amazing as Owens’ pop-up powerbomb to Mark Henry was on Raw, he continued his heel mastery with some of the must direct vitriol that we have heard from him yet. As for Smackdown, although Ryback was in a little match with Bo Dallas, Owens’ growth of fury makes this seem like it really is the finale to their feud. Hopefully these two are given longer than nine minutes this time, and that Owens’ reign of terror continues. The brutality that these two are capable of unleashing on one another looks far more savage and vengeful than before. While they might not be allowed to steal the show, they can definitely leave their mark. If any match were to leave ‘colour’ I would expected it to be these two.
That is not to say that hype equals quality in the end, and in fact, it might be upsetting when expectations aren’t lived up to. However, Smackdown showed that they might know what they are doing after all. Fingers crossed.