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    Monday, March 30, 2020

    Breaking Down SmackDown (3/27/20): WrestleMania Starter Pack

    As WWE’s road to WrestleMania continues, they continue to scramble to create and build a card, which as of now desperately needs some work. The SmackDown storylines, I’d argue, are getting the worst of this unfortunate situation.

    Pre-virus, the build toward the SmackDown 'Mania matches already wasn't looking promising. Due to implications concerning the global pandemic, WWE now have to rush to pick up the pieces and create something for the blue side of the Grandest Stage of Them All. And unfortunately, this week’s episode is a casualty of this scramble to put something together.

    Then Tamina happens 

    WWE treats this particular format, displayed in this segment, as a guarantee that it would be interesting. The SmackDown Women's Champion Bayley and best friend Sasha Banks came out first and started building up their WrestleMania match as a nightmare, as they are to compete against each other. (Another thing to note is that this match will no longer be a six-woman affair, but five.) They also established that there may be cracks in their bond as Bayley fails to get reassurance from Sasha that they are on the same page.

    Then the segment went on pretty standard: with Lacey Evans and then Naomi coming out both to cut promos staking their claim to the title and express their disdain for the heels in the ring. The segment ended with a pretty interesting story thread as Tamina entered the ring and said, “Actions speak louder than words.” She then floored the two faces and stared down the two cowardly heels.

    The selling of Tamina by Michael Cole on commentary made the message clear that WWE wants to position her as an important contender to look out for—the wildcard, the veteran, the powerhouse. These are all flattering comments by Cole. I am intrigued to see how this will play out.

    Gulak impresses against Nakamura

    A matchup of clashing styles was set last week to determine the fate of the Intercontinental Championship match at WrestleMania. The build to this match was that for two weeks in a row, Daniel Bryan has bested Sami Zayn’s faction. Zayn then wagered on the last episode that if Bryan’s new ally Drew Gulak beat Shinsuke Nakamura, Bryan would get an IC title match at the Showcase of the Immortals.

    Albeit a short match, it was still entertaining enough to see a pure wrestler like Gulak go up against the hard striking ability of Nakamura. The match had a good back and forth with both men being able to show their respective styles. The match ended with Gulak evading Nakamura’s Kinshasa and Gulak rolling up Nakamura for the win. Zayn on commentary added to the match and was a great foil to Michael Cole’s neutral commentating.

    A part of me was disappointed to see both Gulak and Nakamura used as pawns for the stories of other superstars; however, Zayn and Bryan is a match that, a couple of years ago, a lot of people wanted to see and, with the IC title on the line, I do hope it delivers.

    Otis-Mania is set

    In a backstage segment, we see Ziggler talking to someone on the phone backstage until Otis and Tucker come to confront him, held back by officials. Heated words are exchanged as Dolph challenges Otis to the match that he's always wanted to have and, frankly, everyone wants to see.  Later in the night we see another segment with Dolph assuring Mandy that everything would be fine at Mania and that this will be the end to their little feud over her.

    The love triangle storyline rarely works because the wrestlers involved are hard to relate to. However, with Otis being used as a caveat for the fans to get behind, this match has been put over in a way no one expected could ever work.

    Fall with Elias

    The next segment is a Walk with Elias bit where he mentions that the host of WrestleMania Rob Gronkowski just announced he would face King Corbin at the Show of Shows. After his set, Elias turned around to thank the nonexistent crowd, only to be blindsided by a very existent Corbin.

    After Corbin hit Elias with a crowbar, the latter was caught teetering on the platform he was performing on. One final hit by Corbin caused Elias to fall down from what was made to look like 10 feet in the air. Although trying to kill someone will always be a classic motivation, the fact that this match will have close to no build going into 'Mania makes this spot cool but unnecessary.

    The Goddess takes it to the The Empress

    With Asuka interfering in Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross’s match two weeks prior, Alexa called out the Empress of Tomorrow last week to face her on her turf.

    The match itself was actually pretty good. I’m not mad at it by any means. It was entertaining to see the two women mock each other’s taunts while dishing out punishing moves on one another. There are props to be made for Alexa, who was doing her best to compete with Asuka’s intensity—and the same props should go to Asuka who showed classic heel mockery and hijinks.

    This match also showed some good storytelling in the form of both women favoring their own hurt arms throughout the match while naturally targeting each other’s arms. In particular, there were some bits of punishing offense that Asuka endured on the apron and outside the ring. The match ended with Alexa planting Asuka with a DDT for the three count.

    Note that besides the action inside the ring, Nikki’s commentary on the outside was a complete delight to experience and was so fun to watch—her gasping for breath because of her talking too fast, her awkward interactions with Michael Cole, and Michael Cole at the end of the match sounding traumatized; good stuff.

    Whether this leads to a tag title match at 'Mania or not, in my opinion, Alexa’s win over Asuka was well-deserved given both women’s accolades in the company.

    Wyatt looks to have a little fun

    This week, the Firefly Fun House returns in a smart and all so creepy way. It begins with Bray reminiscing about his loss to John Cena at WrestleMania five years ago and the voice of the old Wyatt communicating with the Fun House host. The present-day Wyatt tells the voices in his head—and Abby the Doll—that he now has the perfect recipe to beat Cena.

    We then cut to an infomercial style bit with Wyatt putting in the metaphorical ingredients needed in a blender to give him what is needed to beat Cena. The segment ends with Wyatt putting one of his own puppet buddies into the blender and maniacally staring into the camera with the concoction in hand. He then proclaimed that Cena and Wyatt will meet in a Firefly Fun House match.

    In my opinion, this was a very smart move by WWE because it shows what happens when an immovable object like the Fiend does get beaten. Wyatt’s scared and unsure of himself, which makes sense after losing the title a month prior.

    A chance to repeat history

    Set to determine Miz and Morrison’s opponents at WrestleMania for the SmackDown Tag Team Championship, the Usos and The New Day were set to add another match to their historic rivalry. The chemistry and raw talent between the two mainstay teams are undeniable to anyone who has followed their careers. Having traded places as faces and heels over the years, it is difficult to watch these two teams to go at it and not be entertained.

    Both teams had solid promo videos prior in the night, building up their long history and showing the personality of both teams. The match itself was what you would want from two teams who know each other so well. It was really tit-for-tat action as both teams tried to rally to get the upper hand with both teams showing off their signature offensive maneuvers.

    Both teams also actively played into how well they knew each other by joking around at the start of the match before the action got more and more intense. In addition to the match being just plain good, on commentary we had Miz and Morrison who did a fantastic job being annoying and unlikable, twisting words and making fun of Michael Cole’s comments. The Miz, in particular, showcased his skill of speaking “shoot style” promos in a very kayfabe way.

    The match ended with interference from the champs, which caused for the match to end in a no contest—after which, Michael Cole announced that the champs will have to deal with both teams in a ladder match at WrestleMania. The show ended with the two challenger teams dropping the champs and staring each other down.

    WrestleMania has produced some of the greatest ladder matches in history, and this isn’t the first triple threat tag match to take on the formidable stipulation. Let’s see if these three teams can add a worthy addition to the show’s pantheon of ladder moments.

    SmackDown Wrap-Up

    Although it had its good points, the show's overall lack of direction generally left a sour taste in my mouth. As around three 'Mania matches were finalized in one show, its only fair to speculate whether or not they can pull off the big event this year. As for this SmackDown by itself, the show overall did a decent enough job, considering the world’s circumstances, that I will be generous and give it a C rating.

    Photo from WWE

    Jacob Tambunting is a freshman at Ateneo de Manila University currently studying BS Psychology. In his high school years, he authored plays for competitions, essays for projects, and fan fiction for fun. In college, he’s active in theater and debate organizations. He currently lives with his two parents, his two siblings, and his two dogs, and is probably writing something angsty on his 10-year-old laptop.
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    Item Reviewed: Breaking Down SmackDown (3/27/20): WrestleMania Starter Pack Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Romeo Moran
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