Written By: Mark Armstrong
(Read the original version on Pro Wrestling Journal at http://prowrestlingjournal.com/index.php/2018/11/14/wwe-smackdown-review-analysis-11-13-2018/.)
On paper, this should have been a straightforward SmackDown to provide the final push for Survivor Series, further promoting the advertised SmackDown vs. Raw encounters. In reality, though, a major injury would necessitate a big change to one match, as well as likely being the reason for others to be altered too, making this a very eventful and memorable episode.
AJ Styles Promo
AJ Styles came out first and noted what he has overcome during his WWE Championship reign, and began noting how he will defeat Brock Lesnar in their Survivors bout. But he was interrupted by Paul Heyman, who came to ringside via the crowd; however, rather than hyping up Lesnar, Heyman instead talked up Styles, but noted that he was the all-time #2 in terms of technical ability to Daniel Bryan. Heyman’s random line that Lesnar and Bryan would never fight was a spoiler of what was to come (and in hindsight would have been best left out), as AJ explained that, with respect to Bryan, he made him submit two weeks ago. This brought out Bryan, who was angered at AJ and brought up his previous claim that he wanted to punch AJ in the face. When Styles tried to say that he was allowed to mention his name in a good way, Daniel threw a punch and the two began brawling, both in the ring and backstage with Shane McMahon struggling to separate them. Somewhere in there, not only did AJ claim that he wanted another match with Bryan, but he was happy to defend the WWE Title too. Shane officially made the match for the main event slot, and suddenly you got the feeling that plans were changing in a big way. We’ll come back to this.
Jeff Hardy vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas
This was a throwaway match, to be honest. It certainly wasn’t a bad match: both brought out their usual spots, and the action was worth watching. Almas again looked sharp, though this was a step below his clash with Rey Mysterio last week. Ultimately, though, it had the obvious finish of Jeff winning with the Twist Of Fate/Swanton Bomb combo. I’ve seen a lot of complaints about Almas being used to put others over, but it’s still early days for him on the main roster, and right now his performances are standing out more than the results. A push for Andrade will come, and when it does, his lack of major wins or rivalries will be a distant memory. Look at Becky Lynch for proof that things can dramatically change in a short period of time.
Backstage, The Miz had been watching Jeff vs. Almas, and officially said that Jeff was on the Survivors team, though he humorously added that Rey Mysterio was off. Paige disagreed, saying that Rey would face Miz next, and only if Miz won would Mysterio be excluded. As for why Jeff was suddenly on the squad? Because he was replacing Bryan, making Miz now the sole captain. Again, I’ll come back to this at the end.
Shinsuke Nakamura commented on how Seth Rollins was overlooking him, and humorously said that he is heartbroken, before vowing to break his face on Sunday. I should point out that security was occasionally shown guarding the exits at the arena to prevent a full-on attack from the Raw brand.
Rey Mysterio vs. The Miz
Like Hardy vs. Almas, this was enjoyable for what it was, but like the opening bout, it felt secondary and a bit like filler. Miz’ attempts to rid Rey of the Survivors team because he was a Daniel Bryan pick didn’t give us any clues as to who would replace him, not that it mattered as Rey rolled up Miz for the win to keep his place. Post-match, Randy Orton tried another RKO out of nowhere on Miz but Rey side-stepped him, and Orton decided to RKO Miz instead which made me laugh. Another Orton vs. Mysterio feud is clearly coming.
Becky Lynch Promo
Okay, so on Raw, Becky Lynch attacked Ronda Rousey backstage, trapping her in the Dis-Arm-Her, and then led Team SmackDown towards a full-on attack on Raw’s women’s
division, leading to a great big brawl that saw Becky and co. come out on top. During this, Nia Jax inadvertently walloped Lynch in the face so hard that it busted her open, which looked good on the night, but left her with an apparent broken face and a serious concussion, according to WWE. This necessitated Becky pulling out of her SS showdown with Ronda, which was arguably the most anticipated match on the card and the potential main event. For now, I’ll ignore the plot hole of Charlotte Flair being amongst the invaders and helping Becky and the crew, despite their intense rivalry and Flair being unwilling to commit to Team SD for the all-women’s match due to lost confidence.
Anyway, Paige brought out the entire SmackDown women’s division, with Lynch brought out to pick her replacement against Rousey. After telling Ronda “you’re not the baddest bitch in the world, just the luckiest”, she scanned the roster before settling on Charlotte, telling her to finish the job, and they even hugged. The presentation made it feel like Becky was turning babyface here, which only goes with how fans have been reacting all along over the past few months, and despite her injuries and her forced omission from Survivors, Lynch comes across as a truly major star right now, meaning the unwanted situation might actually benefit her status in the long-run. Again, I’ll cover the fall-out at the end, other than to note that fans in St. Louis popped huge when Asuka was considered to face Rousey, which should be a wake-up call to WWE that fans still believe in the Empress, if she was actually handled properly and given air time.
The New Day vs. The Bar & Big Show
This six-man tag was the result of Show helping Cesaro and Sheamus to become SD Tag Team Champions back at the 1000th episode. Again, there wasn’t much to remember
from this bout, and the finish was predictable, with Show clocking a mid-air Kofi Kingston with the WMD Punch for the win. At least The Bar made it on TV to promote their showdown on Sunday with AOP, who didn’t even appear on Raw having won the red brand titles from Seth Rollins last week.
Afterwards, The Usos officially picked The Colons (remember them?), Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson and Sanity to join them and New Day in the all-tags Survivors bout, then spoke to camera by saying “Welcome to the SmackDown Penitentiary”. Judging by where WWE has confirmed the match will take place, it would have been more fitting to call it “the Kick-Off Show Penitentiary”.
WWE Championship Match
AJ Styles (C) vs. Daniel Bryan
I’m skimming through this because the analysis is more worthwhile than the action itself, and the match quality was fine, though a noticeable shade below their previous match two weeks ago (which is weird because, while their last bout was given more time, the outcome was a lot more predictable under the circumstances). Either way, AJ and Bryan went back and forth and targeted body parts in their usual fashion before the big finishing sequence. AJ went for the Phenomenal Forearm, Bryan ducked, and the referee was sparked, albeit mildly. The momentary hesitation (why didn’t Charles Robinson take the full brunt of AJ’s signature move?) allowed Bryan to boot AJ in the balls, seemingly going heel, and then he hit a Running Knee to pin AJ and win the WWE Title, ending Styles’ 371-day reign! Afterwards, Bryan looked almost sad, before emitting an evil smile, and he then attacked AJ again after the match to further emphasise that he had turned heel. Bryan ends the night as WWE Champion, and with this being the last TV taping before Survivors, he now faces Brock Lesnar on Sunday. Now, we get to the fun part, the analysis …
Starting with the women’s scene, WWE made the best of a bad situation by putting Charlotte against Rousey: with the possible exception of Asuka (whose career has
fallen off a cliff in recent months due to awful creative decisions), Flair was the best candidate to replace Lynch, at least for there to be a competitive big match for Rousey. I’ve seen a fair few people saying that this disrupts WrestleMania 35 plans, and maybe it does. But is that a bad thing? For us, the fans, it’s about enjoying what we see on-screen and trying to make sense of it, while thinking about Mania possibilities. But it’s not worth getting angry and thinking “but what about WrestleMania?”, so long as the path that they choose in the short-term makes sense (as I’ll get to shortly when discussing AJ/Bryan). It’s possible that we get a Lesnar/Goldberg-style quick match on Sunday which lays the groundwork for a full-on Ronda/Charlotte collision, or perhaps it is a one-off and the two go in different directions. I’d wager that WWE doesn’t even know for sure right now. But I am looking forward to seeing this on Sunday, and when the Ronda/Becky match does finally happen (and it’s an inevitability based on how well their mini-feud has gotten over), it will be even bigger and make Lynch an even bigger star. It’s possible that the ultimate beneficiary will actually be Becky.
Now onto the WWE Championship match, and this is where I am on the fence, because there are pros and cons. On the positive side, Daniel Bryan is WWE Champion for the
first time since 2014, having finally regained the title that he never lost that year. It also sets up Bryan vs. Lesnar, which until Paul Heyman’s promo seemed like a match we would never get to see, at Survivors; that could be something extremely special if Brock actually gives a toss. It also means that the SmackDown landscape has changed greatly, because with AJ having now lost the gold, the short-term direction for TLC is presumably Bryan vs. Styles, but after that? Anything is now possible, as opposed to the rumoured and assumed destination of Miz vs. Bryan at Mania. That could still happen, though I can’t see why fans would cheer Miz and boo Bryan given their history. But it makes things unpredictable, and it also quells the comments from those who were getting a little tired with AJ as WWE Champion (not that I was one of them, to be fair).
On the negative side, this feels extremely rushed. I certainly don’t mind shot-in-the-arm moments (I recently rewatched The Rock vs. Mankind from the January 4 1999 Raw, and when the show started, nobody expected a title change, yet it became an iconic Raw match for various reasons), but this feels like Vince McMahon suddenly woke up and decided to drastically change course. AJ has just passed the one-year mark as WWE Champion, and then out of the blue it’s over with little fanfare? Last week, the focus was on Miz and Bryan co-existing as captains for the men’s Survivors team, yet this week it’s as if all that never happened, and Shane McMahon winning the World Cup (which presumably is step one of a heel turn for him, and played a part in him joining Team SD last week) wasn’t mentioned at all. It feels like a rash and rushed decision. Besides, okay so his return hasn’t set the world on fire, but who wants to boo Daniel Bryan in 2018? The turn might work against AJ Styles, but after that? I can’t even see him being booed on Sunday against Brock Lesnar. And for Bryan’s big title-winning moment, the peak of his fairytale return, to happen in this manner seems very strange. Imagine if Steve Austin’s WWF Title win from The Rock at WrestleMania X-Seven, including his infamous heel turn, happened not at Mania but on a
random Raw or SmackDown, and that’s the feeling one gets here.
I don’t wish to complain because unpredictable moments are what makes wrestling so compelling, and why the product is always worth watching. But unlike last year, where Jinder Mahal lost the WWE Title because he was boring the piss out of fans with the gold, this seems like a very sudden change in course. Until Heyman opened his mouth, Bryan was out of the title picture (at least until Survivors), whereas AJ was at least on the hunt for Jinder’s gold a year ago. It may be a reaction to Becky getting injured and thus the need to compensate for this by giving us Ronda vs. Charlotte and Lesnar vs. Bryan (which is a tremendous compliment to Becky if that was the case). Or maybe Vince just wasn’t feeling it about Lesnar vs. Styles II (I do admit that it seemed very odd for WWE to run the exact same match, with little in the way of a proper feud, for two straight years). Or maybe this was the plan all along. Or maybe there’s another reason. Whatever the case, while there’s excitement about the title change, something feels off about it, maybe more so about the heel turn. Bryan winning the title as a babyface might have made the moment seem bigger. But again, Daniel hadn’t even mentioned Lesnar on-screen during the run-up to Survivors, and once he tapped out to AJ a fortnight ago, his dream of coming back to win the WWE Title again wasn’t brought up either. It all feels odd. When Dean Ambrose turned heel on Seth Rollins, it was shocking, but it made sense. Even when Rollins turned
heel on The Shield in 2014, nobody saw it coming, but there was the ability to justify the turn. With Bryan, umm, not so much.
One last thing that I said I would bring up: the title change was telegraphed (which partly subdued the moment for me), not only from Heyman’s comments but also from Bryan suddenly being removed from Team SmackDown. Could they not have said that he would only be off the team if Bryan won the title? By instantly removing him, it created the plot hole of what Bryan would do at SS if he didn’t dethrone Styles, but it basically told us “yeah, Bryan’s winning the title tonight”. Oh, and the assumed Raw invasion? Didn’t happen outside of Heyman’s cameo, which is refreshing (and as one fan wrote on Twitter, those security guards deserve a pay rise for finally doing their job), but it feels weird: Raw’s females got pummelled, and now they, erm, don’t retaliate whatsoever?
So, there was a lot to digest from SmackDown this week. Survivor Series is days away, so much of this won’t matter after the weekend. It will be interesting to see what direction they go in with Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey, and it will be very intriguing to see how the WWE Championship picture shapes up in the coming months. I can’t say I was a big fan of the way they’ve changed course for the top title, but it certainly makes things a lot less predictable, thus providing a further reason to tune into SD next week, and to see the dream match of Brock vs. Bryan suddenly and finally happen on Sunday.