Wrestling Review: WWE SmackDown, November 20 2018

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Image Source: Mandatory

Written By: Mark Armstrong

(Read the original version on Pro Wrestling Journal at http://prowrestlingjournal.com/index.php/2018/11/21/wwe-smackdown-review-analysis-11-20-2018/.)

As you’ll probably be aware, SmackDown was trounced by Raw at Survivor Series, losing all six matches held on the main show. While people were freaking out over Raw’s dominance, I tried to consider the positive; that this was clearly for storyline purposes, and that this could be another big episode depending on the direction that the blue brand took as a result (especially given how much Shane McMahon valued the importance of being the superior brand). In addition, we still had to address Daniel Bryan’s heel turn and WWE Title win last week, as well as the fallout of Charlotte Flair destroying Ronda Rousey at Survivors.

Charlotte Flair Promo

It was The Queen who opened the show to discuss her beatdown of Rousey. She made it clear that she enjoyed every minute of it, and noted how she did it for Becky Lynch in light of her recent injuries. She was joined by Paige, the SmackDown General Manager, who is a babyface remember (and didn’t seem at all concerned at SD’s whooping by Raw two nights earlier). She agreed that Charlotte destroying Ronda was a joy to see, but that she had to fine her $100,000 for assaulting referees. We’ll come back to this; in the meantime, The IIconics interrupted Flair but, before they could go full-throttle, an increasingly-crazy Charlotte demanded a match with either of them, as both Billie Kay and Peyton Royce looked very worried, as if a mad-woman had emerged from Charlotte’s shadow.

Charlotte Flair vs. Billie Kay/Peyton Royce

I’ve lumped this segment into one because it is easier to explain that way. Firstly, Charlotte fought Billie in a decent bout, with Kay taken down via the Natural Selection. Afterwards, Flair dared Royce to fight her, and though Peyton initially backed off, she ended up at least trying to stick up for her friend. Not that she intended to win the match, with both IIconics attacking Flair for the DQ. They even had Flair down at ringside as they looked to commandeer a steel chair, but after the staffer from whom they wanted the weapon refused, they simply walked away. What? Before they could think, Charlotte speared them both at the same time, and proceeded to ram their hands, individually at first and then simultaneously, into the announcer’s table. Flair then celebrated; I should mention that she had dared Ronda Rousey to confront her at TLC, based on Ronda swearing revenge on Raw.

So, my understanding is that Charlotte has flipped her lid, and is now a rebellious babyface in the mould of Becky Lynch, rather than a full-fledged heel. If she was a true villain, why would Paige agree with her? Even given the plausibility of Raw and SmackDown being at such odds that any form of attack is deemed fair, Flair hadn’t been in enough trouble to truly justify her sudden kendo stick and steel chair assault on Rousey. No doubt, Charlotte was only pulling off what was planned for Becky Lynch at the PPV, but it all feels very strange. The shades of grey description could apply, but Charlotte had never shown such signs of mad-cap aggression before Sunday. The other point to make is that Rousey right now is being positioned to be booed out of the building against Flair or Lynch, despite having done nothing to justify such a hostile reaction. This will be interesting to keep an eye on, even if it doesn’t entirely make sense.

Miz TV w/ Shane McMahon

Speaking of which, Shane McMahon next appeared on Miz TV, presumably to discuss SmackDown being destroyed by Raw overall at Survivor Series. At the very least, I expected Shane to be upset. But no: he smiled throughout as Miz tried to talk up the two of them being “besties” and requesting him to form a tag team with him. Shane tried to back off, but Miz insisted, and said that they should have a match right now against any tag team, who turned out to be “jobbers” in The Bryant Brothers. With a battered Shane on the apron, Miz did the heavy lifting, only to end up being cradled into a small package and losing. Miz was aghast, as Shane half-heartedly laughed.

Obviously, they’re planting the seeds for a Shane-Miz feud (likely with Shane turning heel and Miz going face), based on this and the World Cup incident. It’d be fun to hear why Miz has suddenly began sucking up so much to Shane O Mac, unless the A-Lister is secretly plotting to eventually pummel the SmackDown Commissioner. But more than that, Shane didn’t address SmackDown’s trouncing at all. Not at all. This means that WWE has either scrapped whatever they had planned, or they realised that the 6-0 thing was invalidated by SD winning a tag match on the pre-show. Or maybe Survivors mattered so little that they thought to just move on as if nothing happened. It tells me that, if the brand extension is still in effect come November 2019, WWE should avoid having the two shows go head-to-head again, because if one side is so thoroughly pummelled and nobody on the roster or even the show’s management cares, why should the fans? At least Miz doing the Shane shuffle here was funny.

Thanksgiving Feast Fight

Speaking of amusing, The New Day were up next, dressed as pilgrims (and joined briefly backstage by R-Truth in Gobbledegooker gear, with a basic yet amusing “Gobble gobble!), to hold a Thanksgiving celebration of sorts. Xavier Woods immediately saying “6-1” before anyone said a word, and bringing it up again throughout, was really funny when you consider the online confusion over the SD tag teams winning their match on Sunday, yet not having it be counted overall due to, erm, reasons. Big E noting how he wished to bite some sweet, succulent breasts … of turkey, and then began eating them very seductively, was predictable but also hilarious. They were interrupted by The Bar and Big Show, which took us into the six-man holiday themed battle.

This was exactly what you would expect, with New Day knocking Big Show through a table of food, and Sheamus ending up tasting the pin after being clocked with a Big E right-hand while his palm was, erm, inside a turkey. Post-match, New Day threw all sorts of food in the face of Cesaro, leaving him knocked out, and the ring covered in all sorts of Thanksgiving goodness. You’d have to be a misery not to crack a smile at this segment, especially given the sudden heel overpowering of WWE television as I’ll explain shortly. The only strange thing was that The Usos, who actually secured the only victory of the night for SD last Sunday, weren’t present at all. It’s as if the writers didn’t watch Survivor Series and booked the show as if SS were in a vacuum, akin to an old UK PPV where its happenings were not acknowledged on television.

Asuka & Naomi vs. Mandy Rose & Sonya Deville

They’re currently pushing the idea of a rift between Deville and Rose, stemming back to Mandy eliminating Sonya from the Women’s Battle Royal at Evolution. That miscommunication saw Sonya inadvertently knocked off the apron by Rose, which led to the decisive victory as Naomi flattened Rose and Asuka tapped out Sonya to the Asuka Lock. In the meantime, Asuka and Naomi remain a formidable combo, which may be good if they had women’s tag titles to strive for.

Daniel Bryan Promo

Next, we had new WWE Champion and newly-heel Daniel Bryan to explain his attitude adjustment, amidst the announcement of Bryan vs. AJ Styles at TLC. Bryan explained that he committed an act of betrayal when he announced his retirement, and fought so hard to return, except that while he couldn’t just move on, the fans did whenever they chanted “AJ Styles”. Upon his return, Bryan said the fans deemed his initial comeback as one moment, but for Bryan, it stretched beyond that, and he noted how, last week, his dreams quite literally kicked AJ Styles in the balls. He also explained that Brock Lesnar beat the weakness out of him at Survivor Series, and he was now a new man; both the old Daniel Bryan and the Yes Movement were dead, replaced by this new, slower-speaking, more strategically-minded version of him, which he even insisted on SmackDown ring announcer Greg Hamilton describing as “The New Daniel Bryan”. I strongly disagreed with the timing of his heel turn last week, and I still do, but there’s no doubt that his new persona will provide a fresh feel to the SmackDown main event scene.

Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio

This main event stemmed from recent run-ins between the two, dating back to Crown Jewel. The match was okay; Rey, as usual, provided excitement through his typical offence, while Orton was more interested in demonstrating his vicious side once more by targeting Rey’s mask, ripping at the eye of the hood a lot. In the end, a sliding Rey splash to the floor led to a brilliant RKO counter, with Orton almost unmasking Rey completely to hit a second RKO for the pin. Post-match, Orton did whip off Rey’s hood, and his face was definitely visible on camera for a moment before launching him into the post with a steel chair around his face. Orton walked away holding Mysterio’s mask as referees helped him, holding a towel over his face to avoid him being seen (and I know he wrestled unmasked in WCW, but that was over 17 years ago, meaning that a lot of fans who don’t regularly browse the internet will have not seen so much of Rey’s face). No doubt, this rivalry will continue, with a Chairs match at TLC perhaps?

I’m not sure how to react to this show. Judged as a one-off programme, it wasn’t great, though it did have its moments (I particularly enjoyed New Day being, well, New Day). But in terms of the bigger picture, it was baffling, mostly because it completely ignored SmackDown having their collectives asses handed to them by Raw last Sunday. Nobody was upset, nobody thought of reacting in any way; we didn’t have anything whatsoever. It was as if they thought “well, we do suck, let’s move on”. I would say that they’re simply delaying the fallout, but right now I don’t see there being any fallout. As I mentioned before, hopefully this is the last time they run the full-on brand vs. brand concept, because SD looked weak enough losing every PPV match, but weaker still for not giving a damn. That Charlotte essentially becoming Becky Lynch 2.0 was muddled (she was a full-on heel in the moment last Sunday, but treated as a conquering hero here, not unlike how SD were portrayed following the Under Siege angle last year) didn’t help either, and even if you use the shades of grey philosophy, it still doesn’t explain why Flair would give up the match at a time when she wasn’t in great jeopardy.

The other concern I have right now is how much the heels have dominated proceedings. Nobody could have prepared for Roman Reigns’ leukaemia announcement which took him out of the game for a good while at least, but while Elias and Braun Strowman turned babyface to accommodate for this (the latter having a bigger impact on the main event scene), in the last month Dean Ambrose has turned into a nasty heel, Ruby Riott has been disrespecting Jim Neidhart’s memory by destroying the glasses he had apparently given to Natalya, Drew McIntyre has essentially finished off Kurt Angle as an in-ring performer, Shane McMahon may or may not be turning bad, Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman have come back on the scene, Daniel Bryan has turned heel as he won the WWE crown in what everyone expected to be a feel-good moment, and Charlotte Flair may have also turned heel, which doesn’t include the fact that, technically, Becky Lynch is most likely also still a heel. Raw saw Braun Strowman destroyed by three heels, and the show ended with another Ambrose beatdown of Seth Rollins. Here, Charlotte went berserk again at a time when she may be a villain, Daniel Bryan cut a promo running down the fans with no AJ Styles interruption, and the show ended with Orton destroying and unmasking Mysterio. Plus, the main event of Survivor Series was a heel vs. heel match.

There isn’t much to go on in the way of feel-good content or competitors right now. On Raw, the top male faces are Seth, Braun (who may now be sidelined), Finn Balor and Elias, with Angle also off-screen for now, while Ronda is the top female babyface who is starting to be booed (why Raw fans would chant “Becky!” at Ronda post-Survivor Series is head-scratching for another reason). On SD, the top male faces are AJ (absent here), Rey (destroyed), Jeff Hardy (also absent), and presumably still Shane (who may be turning), and the top female face had been Charlotte, but now she is going evil too. Oh, and Bryan, the most popular face of the last five years, is now a heel. I think this is why I enjoyed New Day’s segment so much, because there isn’t much positivity in WWE right now (and that doesn’t include Ambrose bringing up Roman’s illness during his Raw promo, which upset a fair few people). Hopefully, things will move in the opposite direction as we head to TLC, because the waters are so muddled right now that there aren’t many big names for fans to truly back. It would also help if WWE were more consistent with their writing in the fall-out of Survivors, which was a big factor why I felt this episode of SmackDown was a real disappointment.