Smackdown – October 4, 2019 @ The Staples Centre, Los Angeles, CA

 

When the Central Coast Mariners signed up the fastest man in history to play in the A-League, it was deemed a crude publicity stunt from a football team far less concerned with sport than it should’ve been. The 2018 capture of Usain Bolt, however, achieved its exact goal, bringing more recognition to the New South Wales outfit than it ever had, or likely ever will.

Such is life, teetering on the edge between sport and entertainment.

WWE’s October 4 debut of Smackdown on FOX resembled that remark, and the promotion also looked to the outside in order to get a hit of the publicity drug. In the WWE championship main event, after finishing titlist Kofi Kingston in a 10 seconds just as incogitant as they sound, Brock Lesnar was confronted by the man who took the UFC heavyweight title from him in 2010, Cain Velasquez. Accompanied by fellow Mexican Rey Mysterio, who had endured a beating from Lesnar on September 30’s Raw, Velasquez took Lesnar down and threw blocked punches before Lesnar retreated from the ring. It was a brief but hot angle, though one that needed more time to allow the MMA fighter and recent pro wrestler a chance to show that he has it within him to entertain at this level.

He is, after all, replacing a very popular Kingston who, for his 13 years in the profession, deserved a better send-off.

Less physically involved but just as heavily teased as an upcoming performer was Tyson Fury, the 31-year-old British heavyweight who’s written his own storyline in boxing after recovering from depression and drug and alcohol abuse. Fury hopped the barricade after Braun Strowman had challenged him to do so during an eight-man tag team match that Strowman won over Dolph Ziggler. Fury was restrained by a dozen security guards, while his ringside entouraged laughed in amusement and the commentary team of Michael Cole and Corey Graves made it all too clear that this was simply a part of the show. The angle will require imaginative follow-up to get it going, and Fury is booked on Monday’s Raw in an “open mic” segment.

Smackdown was introduced by Vince and Stephanie McMahon, who appeared briefly before the main titles. Notably, the 74-year-old Vince was physically smaller than he has ever been seen on television. As AC/DC’s Are You Ready played into the show proper, the images of the top stars posing foreshadowed the fact that there would be less than 40 minutes of in-ring wrestling on this two-hour broadcast. There were no major production changes for this debut on network television, though there were fewer camera cuts on moments of impact, made up for by deliberately odd directorial decisions, including close cropping and positions taken behind the wrestlers. Also of note was the video being dropped to 24 frames per second – a cinematic choice at a time when sports are now mostly framed at 60fps.

None of the wrestling action made this a particular cause for complaint. That’s damning of Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon’s Career versus Career Ladder match, as even though it was an exciting bout filled with big spots, it was treated as an afterthought. After absorbing a McMahon elbow from the top rope through a ringside table, as well as a coast-to-coast dropkick that smashed a ladder into his chest, Owens struck with a powerbomb onto a bridging ladder in the corner of the ring, then climbed to detach the briefcase in a surprisingly definitive ending.

This would be a fine moment to transition McMahon into an on-screen management role, though being wary of copying his father’s interminable “Mr. McMahon” persona.

In another gimmick match, Roman Reigns went over Erick Rowan in a Lumberjack affair, with Daniel Bryan on ringside commentary. WWE has achieved the near-impossible in making Bryan seem insincere in speech, and if he is truly turning babyface and does not heel on his partner at Hell In A Cell on Sunday, the task of getting back to the top seems insurmountable even for one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation. After a mass brawl and Luke Harper run-in, Reigns pinned Rowan with a spear.

A dream match as recently as two years ago, Universal champion Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura saved the best for the very first move of their two-minute encounter, as Nakamura struck a gorgeous jumping armbar. It was all downhill from there and, as Rollins was preparing to hit the curb stomp, the lights went out and he was attacked by The Fiend on the stage. This was much more Scream than Psycho, and when The Fiend threw Rollins off the stage, the quick cut to an advertising break further stripped the moment of the required gravitas.

In the opening contest, Smackdown women’s champion Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair triumphed over Raw women’s title-holder Bayley and Sasha Banks in a sloppy contest that belied their apparent disdain for each other. The division has long since swapped the defined characters of their NXT run for the tactic of running them up the flagpole and seeing who salutes. Bayley and Banks, in particular, are getting by on fans they’ve accumulated over the years.

Lynch had already been active on the show, joining The Rock in the first segment for a verbal beatdown of Baron Corbin. While she admirably got in her licks, this was another case of the current star having to feed off the scraps left by the outsider.

With The Rock, Velasquez, and Fury the undoubted stars of the show, the question is now whether they can attract their fans to tune in regularly, and whether that’s a net positive for a promotion that was already struggling to promote its wrestlers as sensations in their own right.

RESULTS

– Becky Lynch & Charlotte Flair def. Bayley & Sasha Banks (Submission / 8:15) *3/4
– Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (No Contest / 2:20)
– Kevin Owens def. Shane McMahon (12:10 / Career-ending Ladder match) **3/4
– Braun Strowman, The Miz, & Heavy Machinery def. AJ Styles, Robert Roode, Dolph Ziggler, & Randy Orton (Pinfall / 2:45)
– Roman Reigns def. Erick Rowan (Pinfall / 9:00 / Lumberjack match) **
– Brock Lesnar def. Kofi Kingston (Pinfall / 0:10)

(Credit for match times: Larry Csonka / 411Mania)