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WWE Thursday Night Smackdown – May 14th, 2015

The go-home edition of the blue brand beams into living rooms around America and through my computer monitor in Vancouver, as we get set for the final stop before WWE Payback.

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With some of the bigger name talent taking the night off (Randy Orton, John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, The Bellas), the rest of the roster trade partners for a night as they try their best to hype every feud on the upcoming card. A surprisingly uncomplicated night, with an absence of run-ins, interference, shmozzes, or last minute stipulations. The focus was on competitive in-ring action – of which there was plenty, and on the subtle relationships between single superstars.

THE RUN-DOWN:

  • Cold open as Bray Wyatt address Ryback with a promo from the Titantron.
  • Dean Ambrose opens the show formally in the ring. Roman Reigns joins and the two square off, but are interrupted by Kane. Kane puts Ambrose in a match right away.
  • Dean Ambrose vs Sheamus: attempting to hit White Noise from the second rope, Ambrose escapes and trips Sheamus, sending his head into the ring post. Ambrose rolls him up for the three count.
  • Backstage: Seth Rollins antagonizes Kane. Kane puts Rollins in a match with Ryback.
  • Rusev and Lana in the ring: Lana begs forgiveness from her home country for her recent behaviour. Rusev cuts promo on John Cena.
  • Backstage: Ryback cuts super-face promo with Rene.
  • Seth Rollins vs Ryback: Wyatt attacks Ryback on his way to the ring. Looking very weakened and disoriented, Ryback insists on the match. Rollins wins with a pin-fall after hitting a springboard flying knee and two consecutive superkicks.
  • Backstage: Naomi and Tamina cut a fierce promo on the Bellas.
  • Kofi Kingston vs Tyson Kidd: Kidd submits Kingston with the Sharpshooter.
  • Replay of Daniel Bryan’s farewell address from Monday Night Raw.
  • Bo Dallas vs Neville: King Barrett on commentary. Neville wins with the Red Arrow. Barrett cuts promo from atop the announce table.
  • Backstage: Adam Rose (with Rosa Mendes) loses patience with Hot Dog, tells the Rosebuds that “the party is officially over. Rosa says the party has just begun, and they make out as Kane walks by, disgusted.
  • No Holds Barred Match – Kane vs Roman Reigns: Reigns gets the pin after spearing Kane through a table.
  • Backstage: Rene talks with Seth Rollins. Dean Ambrose attacks with a plate of cookies, brawl ensues, Reigns gets involved and the heels scamper away. Reigns and Ambrose face off again, this time with the championship belt between them. Ambrose drapes it on Reigns’ shoulder, saying “Don’t worry, I’ll take it this Sunday.” Fin.

ANALYSIS:

  • Bray Wyatt opening the show in the manner he did cast a sinister shadow over the whole affair. Although I enjoy watching him operate physically in the ring, and his promos – if too frequent or too long – can become repetitive, he is far more effective as an occasional presence. His character works far better as a glimpse, a flicker, a voice, a dark shape in the corner of your eye which invokes fear in uncertainty and chaos rather than a visible, full-time worker.

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  • Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns are being given a fantastic opportunity to work with one another in the top level of the company, and much like Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, they are using their friendship to weave a complex and compelling story between warriors – though they are sacrificing a bit of frailty and sentiment for machismo. Reigns showed understanding for Ambrose attacking him with Dirty Deeds, but promised it would not happen again.

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  • Ambrose is a smart fan’s wrestler. He showed again this week his predilection for pointing out the obvious and recurrent motifs of the program, much like he did during the contract signing last week. As Kane was informing Ambrose he would be facing Sheamus with his emphatic, “And that match starts–” Ambrose cut in, finishing the sentence and remarking that “Now is the only time Kane knows to schedule a match.” Gold. You can tell from watching his style in the ring, his constant nostalgia references and his instinctual ring psychology that he is a true student of the game, a long-time fan and wrestling nerd. That makes me like him even more.

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  • Sheamus struggled at times with the Lunatic Fringe, but managed to still look imposing heading into his match with Ziggler this Sunday – something which was barely mentioned at all. I even questioned at one point whether the match was still scheduled, because all the announce team seemed focused on was Ambrose and the Fatal Four-Way. This is a problem with booking stars in this manner: they were not able to hype both matches equally. I appreciate the fact that the two were able to carry out a full-blown, physical bout without interruption or screwy finish indicative of go-home shows, especially since distractions have played a part in every step of the Sheamus/Ziggler feud and it was getting predictable. But for Ziggler to suddenly be absent and not even mentioned feels unusual.

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  • The dynamic between Lana and Rusev has changed since its inception, and without reason. When the monstrous Russian began his run of destruction in WWE, he let Lana do all his talking. He was there to fight, nothing more. He was a highly disciplined machine of a competitor, a rabid Bulgarian bear, and Lana was the handler with the cattle prod and the hunk of red meat on a stick with which to subdue him. He would take his cues from her during his matches, looking to her for that final “Rusev, crush!” order, upon which he would unleash his dreaded Accolade and seal his opponent’s fate. Since when did this all change? Now it appears that Lana is the subordinate, cowering from Rusev’s ire and being made to apologize for her behaviour. Why the sudden change? What is the motivation? I like characters being complex and going through arcs and changes, but I appreciate it when those changes make sense.

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  • Rollins looked the strongest he has in weeks against Ryback. This was just what the doctor ordered going into Payback against the three biggest faces in WWE now, a reminder why he is wearing the belt. His victory was tainted slightly by Wyatt’s pre-match attack, but Rollins didn’t just squeak by with a stolen pin here – he dominated. That’s saying a lot when the man doing the job is Ryback, who has (more or less) consistently been booked strong.

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  • This match succeeded where the Ambrose/Sheamus opener failed, in that it served both storylines and promoted not only the upcoming Pay-Per-View matches but the participants themselves.
  • Question: Ryback appearing to sell the effects of a possible concussion – is that crossing a line? I feel conflicted about it, considering how much heat the Fed – and pro sports in general – get for concussions. Zayn did the same in his first match with Owens, and it invoked the same gut response.
  • Naomi and Tamina cut a great promo backstage. It’s a shame there was no Diva match to promote the big tag team contest at Payback.

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  • Kingston and Kidd are capable of so much more than they offered on Smackdown. This match reeked of time restraints, and it’s a shame. But I suppose it’s better to leave a bunch of tricks hidden under the hat when the big 2 out of 3 falls match is around the corner. One thing that really struck me here: Kofi as a heel really works. He’s adopted a more aggressive style and he’s really selling it. A true testament to Kingston’s adaptability – and ability, in general: to go from Mr Smiley to Mr Smiley (Who Will Also Stab You in the Back).
  • Actually, something else occurred to me… So, all those issues of marital dissension between Natalya and Kidd which were so heavily teased and implied for months – are we just pretending those don’t exist anymore? Did they just abandon that altogether when they turned face? Oh yeah, I forgot: they never actually formally turned face.

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  • The audience got treated to a vision of what the future of WWE’s main event championship picture could look like a couple of years (give or take): Neville and Dallas, two former NXT Champions (never mentioned once during the match by the announce team) squaring off. For how short a match this ended up being, the work-rate was intense and Dallas looked the best he’s looked… maybe ever, at least since joining the big leagues. Bo Dallas has the makings of a great heel, and Neville has all the tools to become a top face, and I have no doubt these two will end up in quite the program once Dallas finally gets booked properly. (On that note: If that beard of his gets any longer, it’s going to be a lot harder for people to pretend he isn’t Bray Wyatt’s little brother.)

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  • Kane continues to breathe new life into his character with aggressive showings like this Thursday’s main event, and Reigns keeps building on his repute as a tough son of a bitch who can dish it out as well as he can take it. Reigns showing no hesitation to grab a table (or two) or smack someone around with a kendo stick are earning him respect among the hardcore fans, while his dynamic dropkicks and superman punches are making him a movie action hero in the eyes of the youngsters. He’s really got it all, and getting better at it all the time. Again, the night ends off on another clean finish, with any number of run-ins held at bay for whatever reason. Even if it was simply to deviate from the usual routine, that is cause enough for me and I respect that.

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  • Another deviation on this show was closing backstage instead of in the ring, something the audiences have become accustomed to seeing. The staredown between Reigns and Ambrose over the title belt amid scores of crumbled cookies was made intimate by the quiet and closeness of the camera.
  • These two will be working together off and on for years, I hope. The X factor is how well they mesh in the ring, which we will catch a glimpse of (possibly) this Sunday. What the nature of their relationship will be coming out of the Payback main event remains to be seen. Friends? Tentative collaborators? Hated foes? The newest tag team? Indifferent well-wishers? We shall soon find out…

Photos copyright WWE.com

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