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    Saturday, January 30, 2016

    SmackDown Rundown (1/28/16): On Highlights, Underdogs, and Phenomenal Ones

    Welcome to this week’s SmackDown Rundown! No Ricky this week because he got lost somewhere in our boiler room while he was celebrating AJ Styles’ SmackDown debut, so it’s your boy Stan Sy filling in.

    The blue brand’s been a lot of fun since 2016 began, but it’s still quite a way’s away from the peak it achieved in the early 2000s. Nonetheless, it’s nice to know that SmackDown isn’t as much of an afterthought as it used to be. This week, we got a monster 6-man tag team main event, a YOU-nited States Championship match, and a phenomenal debut, so let’s jump right in!

    Chaos Engulfs the Highlight Reel

    Chris Jericho hosted the Highlight Reel on SmackDown and had Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose as his guests. They chatted about the #1 Contender’s match in the main event of Fastlane, and Jericho tried to amplify the tension that will surely come between Roman and Deano. As they began to shift the focus to Brock Lesnar, the third man in that Fastlane main event, Bray Wyatt and his family made their presence felt.

    I don’t understand why we’re all pretending that Brock’s going to have a chance to win and face Triple H at ‘Mania. The fact that Bray Wyatt is Lesnar’s stand-in in this segment is more proof that Wyatt and Lesnar will face off in Dallas and that Reigns is surely winning the main event. I’m starting to care less and less about Fastlane and we’re not even a week removed from the Royal Rumble.

    The Wyatt Family’s appearance on the Highlight Reel leads to a six-man tag team match between the three babyfaces—who, by the way, did not even reference the tension they had from Night of Champions. Shame!—and Bray Wyatt, Erick Rowan, and Luke Harper. The match itself wasn’t anything to write home about. Every performer got their signature spots in, and the Wyatt Family had a brief window to remind themselves how imposing they can be if booked properly.

    If is the operative word, because they had Big Show—who turned face for the umpteenth time—suddenly making the save and apparently forgetting that he used to be an Authority lapdog because he has some history with the Wyatts from a couple of weeks ago. Together with Big Show, the babyfaces easily dispatch of the Wyatts and stand tall to the end the program. What a joke. It felt like having a happy ending for the sake of having one.

    Match and post-match segment rating: 5/10. Seriously, I don’t think anybody is keeping track of how many times Big Show has switched alignments anymore.

    Who is the Better Underdog?

    #Kalisto2016 was in full swing this week as he defended his newly won YOU-nited States Championship against Neville. Seeing the Man that Gravity Forgot as Kalisto’s opponent was refreshing because we got to see Neville as the bigger man, which doesn’t happen a whole lot.

    Both guys worked well with one another, with Neville getting in more of his power game against the Diminutive Dynamo. I absolutely enjoyed their back-and-forth, even though it seemed apparent early on that Kalisto was undoubtedly going to retain his title. That modified Salida Del Sol from a counter was just gorgeous and stunned me as it took a while for me to realize that Kalisto had already beaten Neville.

    I want to see Kalisto bring back some iteration of the U.S. Open Challenge, or at least to have a steady slew of challengers chomping at the bit to take the U.S. title from him. That’s the only way you can keep Kalisto from getting stale as the babyface champion. Otherwise, you might as well have him drop it to a more physically imposing heel challenger, because the chase is way more fun anyway.

    Match Rating: 8/10. Let’s give this Match of the Night honors while we’re at it.

    The Phenomenal One Arrives

    The Social Outcasts came out to cut a promo about Curtis Axel’s near-yearlong Royal Rumble match run finally ended because of a certain AJ Styles. This led to AJ himself making an entrance and a match against the Ax Man.

    For all intents and purposes, the match was an exhibition of what AJ Styles brings to the WWE. So if you’ve never seen an AJ Styles match before—in which case, you’ve been living under one hell of a rock—then WWE’s given you every avenue available to be familiar with his work. He finally hit the Styles Clash on WWE TV, and Curtis Axel was his first victim.

    I want to praise Mauro Ranallo and Jerry Lawler for their excellent back-and-forth on commentary during AJ’s match with Curtis Axel in particular. Mauro, being the former play-by-play guy on NJPW on AXS, cites AJ’s accomplishments outside of WWE, specifically his status as a 2-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Lawler argues that “if it didn’t happen in WWE, then it doesn’t matter”.

    While some smarky fans take exception to this because they feel that it craps on AJ’s successful pre-WWE career, it’s important to note that Lawler is playing up his new (old) role as the heel color commentator. King even goes so far as to toot his own horn by saying that while he won multiple world championships, none of it mattered when he got to the WWE. If what Lawler’s saying is pissing you off, then guess what, he’s working you and you’re eating it up. It’s great to have heel Lawler back on commentary because he’s able to play off PBP guys who know how to do their job well like Mauro Ranallo.

    Match Rating: 6/10. It got the job done. And, hey, AJ Styles is on SmackDown! I can’t believe I typed that last sentence down.

    Clusterfuck City, Bitch!

    After a barely entertaining opening segment between the New Day, the Miz, and the Usos, we got ourselves an eight-man tag team match to kick off SmackDown between the New Day and Miz against the Usos, Titus O’Neil, and Dolph Ziggler—whose entrance suddenly shocked the New Day as if he were some world-beater. Sorry, Dolph, but even I don’t believe that anymore.

    The match was typical multi-man tag fare, and didn’t really get anything done in terms of advancing anyone’s storylines. The only good thing we got out of it was seeing Xavier Woods getting superkicked and Miz getting planted with the Clash of the Titus. Otherwise, you won’t miss out on much if you fast forwarded through the match after the New Day’s promo.

    Match Rating: 5/10. Meh.

    Express Thoughts:

    It was nice seeing Charlotte and Nattie revive their rivalry on SmackDown, but at this point, Natalya has lost so much steam that she's nothing more than enhancement talent. Also, it would have been nice to see Sasha interact with both Becky and Charlotte instead of the scrapped segment where she supposedly left Team B.A.D. Now, I, for one, have been waiting ages for that to happen. However, they kept that segment off the final cut of this week’s SmackDown, so it remains to be seen what the fate of Team B.A.D. really is.

    Goldust and R-Truth continue to give us some much-needed comedy through their backstage segments. You have to love how R-Truth is really playing up the dumb and wacky side of his character by getting all the wrong things and by not getting what he should be understanding. For his part, Goldust adds value to the segments by talking in a vague manner, and by bringing back his creepy stutter from his Tourette’s Syndrome gimmick.

    SmackDown Rundown: Despite two multi-man tag matches, you can still see the effort that Creative is putting into at least making SmackDown more must-see than it used to be. The fact that they gave the show some importance through the U.S. title match and AJ Styles’ SmackDown debut speaks to the slow and steady improvement of the show under Road Dogg’s leadership.

    Nonetheless, until SmackDown becomes its own independent brand with its own roster again like its glory days, it will continue to be just a cheap version of RAW. Seriously, with all the injuries the main roster guys are getting, WWE should start being more sensitive and perceptive and y’know, do the right thing (by going with a brand split), before guys like AJ Styles, the New Day, and Kalisto start getting injured themselves.

    This week's show gets a B.

    Photos from WWE.


    Stan Sy (@_StanSyis the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. Every now and then, he dresses up in fancy suits to book matches as PWR's longest-tenured General Manager to date.
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    Item Reviewed: SmackDown Rundown (1/28/16): On Highlights, Underdogs, and Phenomenal Ones Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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