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    Monday, March 16, 2020

    SmackDown RunDown (3/13/20): An Arena Full of John Cenas

    Coronavirus sucks. Aside from it being a deadly pandemic, it also caused the cancellation of many public events—including wrestling shows and pay-per-views. But I kinda want to thank the coronavirus for bringing us a historic episode of SmackDown this week. For one, it was held live from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. And for another, it’s the first WWE show to not have any live audience present. It was definitely an interesting experience.

    As Roman Reigns eloquently pointed out, the wrestling business relies heavily on putting butts in seats. The fact that WWE had to run a show without a crowd sounds totally wild on paper. But I’m not gonna act like a pretentious asshole and say it lessened the wrestling experience. No, it totally didn’t. Crowd or no crowd, the talent still went out there and brought their A-game. They could have literally just phoned it in and call it a show, but that’s not how the Blue Brand rolls.

    The unlikely stars of this empty arena show were certainly Triple H and Michael Cole on commentary. This duo had unbelievable chemistry, probably stemming from the D-Generation X era when Cole was DX’s favorite punching bag. Most of the show’s comedic highlights came from their hilarious banter, ranging from Triple H throwing shade at internet dirt sheet rumors to Michael Cole receiving the “hyping” of a lifetime from Mojo Rawley and of course, Triple H.

    Both commentators embodied the theme of this week’s show: letting loose and having fun in the midst of a worldwide health crisis. Without a crowd to please, everyone felt comfortable to play their roles to a tee. There was Drew Gulak encouraging Daniel Bryan to do the YES! chant even without a crowd to rally; you had John Morrison and The Miz cutting a great celebratory promo capitalizing on the empty seats; heck, even Roman Reigns did great on the mic. 

    Don’t think for one second that this week’s episode was all promo. We got a tag team match to open the show that saw Sasha Banks and Bayley go over Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross thanks to outside help from a dancing Asuka; we also got D-Bry vs. Cesaro coupled with a possible rivalry forming between Bryan and Sami Zayn, and Jeff Hardy returned triumphantly against King Corbin. The lack of an audience didn’t affect the quality of these matches one bit.

    To close the show, John Cena actually made an appearance in an empty arena to further his storyline with Bray Wyatt. Crowd or no crowd, Cena can masterfully cut the best promos like they’re made of butter. And you know what, I’m not too mad about this match anymore because, for the first time in years, Cena is the one aiming to get rid of the overhyped top star. Remember when Cena was the overhyped top star everyone wanted to topple? 

    Look back at his last rivalries in WWE and you’ll see AJ Styles, The Miz, and Dean Ambrose regurgitating the same issues: Cena is lazy and he isn’t all that. It’s a breath of fresh air to see Cena being defensive about his stature. What I love more about this promo is that he made it sound like he’s pro-future by putting over names like Drew McIntyre, Rhea Ripley, and Velveteen Dream while aiming to bury Bray Wyatt once again, just because he doesn't like him that much.

    Now before you complain and say Cena's promo didn't make sense, remember that this is pro wrestling. Bray Wyatt challenged John Cena to a match because Bray blames his loss to Cena at WrestleMania XXX for his downward spiral. Obviously, they're not here to exchange pleasantries. So just like any other wrestler would do, Cena threw fighting words back at Bray. Isn't it cool that Cena chose the "You're lazy and overhyped!" route instead of calling him the usual "You're a bad man!" route? 

    It gets even better when you peel the kayfabe off his words. No disrespect to the names Cena mentioned, but Bray Wyatt has reinvented himself multiple times throughout his WWE run and made himself the most unique and creative WWE Superstar of the modern era. There's nothing lazy about Bray Wyatt, and the fact that a part-timer is calling him that makes this promo even better. The lack of self-awareness somehow delights me. You're not so perfect now, are you, Johnny Boy?

    Bray Wyatt also cut a better promo compared to last week’s snoozefest. Him slouching down while rambling heavily for the entire segment was definitely an unsettling sight and when he finally faced Cena, he suddenly lit up like a deranged serial killer. They kinda ruined it by ending the segment with the lights simply turning off—which is definitely a lazy way to end a segment, to be honest—but it was a great faceoff nonetheless, considering how empty the arena was.

    SMACKDOWN RUNDOWN: It looks like the coronavirus ain’t gonna stop WWE from producing live shows, seeing as this setup will probably be the norm for the next few weeks. At this point, we could probably get a crowdless CasualMania live at the WWE Performance Center. That would certainly grab everyone’s attention. I know it’s a long shot, but if this actually ends up happening, I’ll definitely go out of my way to watch a historic event like that. 

    Show Grade: B-

    RunDown CutDown

    • Daniel Bryan and Drew Gulak is yet another team we never thought we needed. It was a cool swerve to have D-Bry become Gulak’s student when it should be the other way around. See what happens when wrestlers are allowed to be more creative with their storylines?
    • I’m pretty sure there was a better way to fill the time than to show a replay of the Tag Team Elimination Chamber match? We could’ve had some NXT Superstars compete just for one night. We’ve seen NXT save the show once, why couldn't they have done it again?
    • Since when did Jeff Hardy’s finisher become the Twist of Fury? That’s just dumb. Matt Hardy even explained that he didn’t trademark the old (and correct) finisher name. So what gives?
    • If there’s one positive we can take out of the whole Rob Gronkowski business, it’s that he brought back Mojo Rawley’s old Stay Hyped persona. Everything’s right with the world again. 
    Photos from WWE.com


    Ricky Publico (@TeetotaleRicky) is Smark Henry's resident SmackDown reviewer... for better or worse. A known lover of wrestling tournaments, he's a sucker for well-executed promos and fast-paced matches. While he enjoys nitpicking shows, he now prefers enjoying wrestling for what it is instead of stressing himself over things he can't control. He just bought an Android phone and he couldn't be more delighted.
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    Item Reviewed: SmackDown RunDown (3/13/20): An Arena Full of John Cenas Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Ricky Jay Publico
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