WWE Smackdown Live. What a difference a year makes…
Smackdown Live – The Land of Opportunity. The show which won WWE plaudits from fans and critics alike for its wrestling-first approach following the brand split of 2016 has been on a slippery slope for the last 12 months. SDLive has effectively become WWE’s C show behind RAW and NXT but it didn’t happen by mere coincidence, it all comes down to a series of bizarre decisions and mistakes on WWE’s behalf. The sudden decrease in quality has seen a drastic plight in live show attendances, and backstage sources have recently leaked information which suggests the superstars and staff aren’t happy. So, what happened? How did a show housing the likes of AJ Style, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn and many more talented superstars end up as somewhat of an afterthought?
- Unusual Booking Decisions
Ask any member of the WWE Universe and they will unanimously agree that one of the major catalysts for the sudden decline on the blue brand was WWE’s short-sighted decision to put the WWE Championship around the waist of Jinder Mahal. This isn’t to say he is entirely to blame as that would be unfair on a man who was thrust in to the spotlight and did the best he could with limited material but considering the calibre and talent of the names mentioned above this was never going to sit well with regular viewers. The fans aren’t stupid, this was quite clearly a marketing ploy on WWE’s behalf, one intended to help drive the company forward into the Indian market, but what WWE failed to recognise is the impact this would have outside of its intended market. Viewing figures down, network subscriptions going nowhere, half empty arenas for live shows… all for the sake of making a few extra bucks on a different continent where wrestling isn’t even close to being their number one sport. WWE absolutely baffle me sometimes, the merchandise sales from keeping the belt on a guy like AJ Styles, the best wrestler in the world, would’ve more than outweighed all the negative impacts that the Jinder experiment had.
Dolph Ziggler won the United States Championship out of nowhere against Bobby Roode and Baron Corbin. It was a genuine shock and for a lot of fans quite a welcome one, you can question Dolph’s commitment, but you certainly can’t deny his talent, plus we so rarely see actual surprises anymore. What did WWE do next? They had him vacate the title just 2 nights later, seemingly quitting the company in the process, then held a tournament to determine a new winner. Dolph then surprisingly returned as the number 30 entrant in the Royal Rumble, another decision which made no sense whatsoever, just to have him leave little impact on the match before being eliminated. A few short weeks later and he is shoe horned in to the WWE Championship fatal 5-way match at Fastlane. So that’s: 1. Gives up his title 2. Walks away while insulting fans and company 3. Gets handed an opportunity at the main title. Am I the only one seeing something wrong there? If I quit my job and walked away while saying my employer doesn’t deserve me, I wouldn’t then walk back in a month later as the new CEO…
When Tyler Breeze & Fandango formed to create the fashion police, barely anybody batted an eyelid, myself included. But then when Fashion Files came along out of nowhere, the world started to pay attention. These two guys had something special, they had ‘it’… we already knew they were good enough in the ring, but now they were entertaining, hilarious, clever, witty and with a marketable gimmick to boot. They were so good they even managed to bring The Ascension back out of obscurity, which should never have happened in the first place seeing as they were the longest reigning NXT Tag Team champions in history, but that’s WWE’s horrible booking for you. So, what have Breezango done since? Surely they’ve won the titles by now? Shown the world what we always knew they could do right? NOPE! They’ve been relegated to short clips on wwe.com, turned into a complete joke and they’ve been jobbing out to the Blugeon Brothers for no good reason in ridiculous squash matches.
Can somebody please find exactly what it is WWE are smoking and bring it my way please?
- Limited Roster
Another problem SDLive has is the roster. While they do have some outstanding talent on offer, once you look away from the WWE Championship picture there really isn’t a lot going on. The mid card scene right now is one of the poorest I’ve ever seen, and while it is centred around the gifted Bobby Roode does anybody really want to see him taking on the likes of Mojo Rawley and Jinder? In their desperation, WWE have shifted Randy Orton into the mix, but unfortunately the move has come about 3 years late when the majority of fans are fed up of seeing yet another one of Vince McMahons golden boys given undeserved opportunities.
With a smaller roster comes the big problem of having fewer storylines, and therefore having to extend the current programs way longer than they need to be. It feels like at this point AJ Styles has been facing off against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn for about 6 months, I know it hasn’t been that long, but it genuinely feels as though it has been, and that’s a real problem. Don’t get me wrong, RAW suffers from this problem too most notably with anything Bray Wyatt ever does, but SDLive has this issue all over the show. Charlotte v Natalya, Uso’s v New Day (amazing but still overextended), AJ v Jinder… the list goes on. We want short, snappy and exciting feuds lasting a couple of months at most.
While SDLive is suffering badly with its talent pool, RAW is facing the opposite problem of having too many great superstars to utilise them all correctly. The blue brand will hopefully get a shot in the arm when we see the return of the Superstar Shakeup this spring, bringing talent from RAW such as Finn Balor, Samoa Joe, Elias and Seth Rollins who could make a monumental impact and conjure up some dream matches with the likes of Shinsuke Nakamura and Styles. A few NXT call-ups wouldn’t go amiss either, with Johnny Gargano and Aleister Black more than deserving of their time to shine after incredible 2017’s.
- Tag Team Division
While the show has been on a downward spiral, the one thing that SDLive got right in 2017 was the tag team division. The Uso’s and The New Day produced main event calibre matches week in and week out, their promos were absolute fire and a rivalry which spanned across both shows somehow managed to never get boring and they single handedly saved awful PPV’s. The back end of 2017 was equally as entertaining with the addition of Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin (Benjable) and the unlikely duo of Rusev & Aiden English (Rusev Day) into the mix. We saw these 4 teams put on some of the best tag team contests I have ever seen, harking back to the glory days of Edge & Christian, The Dudley Boys and The Hardy’s. The division was so good that it was gaining plaudits from all over the world and was keeping people interested in a show which was lagging in other aspects.
Then around 4 months ago, WWE said ‘screw you guys’ and decided that what we really wanted to see was The Uso’s v Benjable. The best tag team in the world versus the weakest of the four teams mentioned before competing in a series of regular 2v2 tag matches, when we had just been treated to some absolutely insane and frantic contests. The going plan seems to be The Uso’s v The Blugeon Brothers leading into WrestleMania and I’ve got to be honest, I can’t think of anything that I would want less right now. The Uso’s were almost universally voted as the best tag team of 2017, and now Vince is going to feed them to his favourite thing. Big. Burly. Angry. Sweaty. Homoerotic. Muscly. 7-foot-tall men. Because god forbid natural talent should be rewarded eh? What we REALLY want to see is Erik Rowan lumbering around the ring slapping himself…
WWE really need to let go of the likes of The Colons, The Ascension and (it pains me to say it) Breezango. Let them go and shine somewhere else, they would thrive in other promotions such as Ring of Honor or New Japan Pro Wrestling, and could be quite nicely replaced with a couple of NXT call-ups like Authors of Pain, SAnitY or Bobby Fish & Kyle O’ Reilly.
- Women’s Division
I’ve tried to find a way to say this nicely but its proving impossible so ill just come out with it. The SDLive women’s division is an absolute clusterfuck right now. There is no direction, no appeal, no storyline and no credible challenger for the championship. Charlotte v Sasha Banks on RAW was the rivalry which reminded fans that with the correct booking, the women could be main eventers. Since Charlotte moved to the blue brand however, she has lost everything that was great about her, The company are building her as a natural babyface, but it just doesn’t work at all, she is a natural born heel like her daddy, but she finds herself on a show already full of heels… albeit very average ones.. Natalya was the last woman other than Charlotte to hold the belt for a short while and it was one of the most painful and forgettable experiences that I’ve seen. Of all of the other women on the show there are only one or two who can be believable champions, and even they are a bit of a stretch. Becky Lynch is very talented in the ring and she is good enough on the mic but was treated like absolute shit in 2017. Naomi is probably the closets to Charlotte in terms of ring work and athleticism, but she falls flat when it comes to mic work where she is horribly stereotypical with almost every sentence.
SDLive have a nasty tendency to use every single woman on every single show. 99% of the time you can guarantee that we will be seeing some sort of 3 v 3 tag match with one of those teams being the Riott Squad and both teams having a manager or valet such as Lana. It’s such uninspiring drivel every single week, and although each woman brings something different to the match, they have absolutely no chemistry with eachother and it ends up a complete mess. The Riott Squad was a nice idea when they debuted, but neither Liv Morgan or Sarah Logan were ready for the main roster, they were brought in because one is pretty and one is dominant, and their matches are usually so bad that even Botchamania would struggle to fit in all the screw ups. I can’t be the only one who has a hard time generating any excitement for the next episode when I know exactly what matches I’m going to see before they’re even advertised.
The only saving grace here is that it seems Asuka will be using her Royal Rumble victory to challenge Charlotte at WrestleMania. While I may not be an Asuka fan, and I know I’m in a minority there, she is at least a credible threat and will bring out the best in the champ. Going forward SDLive desperately need to trim the fat from the division and say goodbye to the deadweight such as Tamina and Lana, bring Bayley over in the Superstar Shakeup and give debuts to someone like Nikki Cross or Peyton Royce.
- Shane McMahon & Daniel Bryan
Well here we go… the real kicker. Let me take a second to apologise in advance in case this gets a bit… sweary.
When Shane McMahon returned to WWE it was one of the most surprising and iconic moments of all time. The prodigal son had returned to challenge his sister Stephanie and father Vince and despite falling short he was rewarded by being put in charge of SDLive and taking on RAW in direct competition. Show v show, brand split, first WWE draft in years, new general managers… it was an exciting time. SDLive got off to a great start, with Shane outlining the direction of the show from day one. He proudly announced that SDLive would be the land of opportunity, it would focus on the talent and the superstars opposed to the management who were the focal point on RAW at the time. It was a welcome change from the norm, and something the fans had long been craving.
Fast forward almost two years. We have seen Shane face the legend, icon and challenger for the Greatest Of All Time title The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 32 in a terrible Hell In A Cell match, Kevin Owens in yet another less than average cell match, AJ Styles at Wrestlemania 33 and two Survivor Series main events. This is an old man who at no point of his career has been able to wrestle or sell, who has never been able to speak consistently well on the mic and is known for nothing more than falling off of tall things… and he is taking the spots and matches that superstars infinitely more deserving are missing out on. He hasn’t even won any of his feuds, so please tell me what was even the point? None of the men he has faced needed to be put over, they didn’t need someone to make them look good. It’s a non-stop ego trip from a man born into wealth and power and it makes me fucking sick.
We have seen him appear on virtually every single episode of SDLive in some capacity, and over the last 6 or so months we have seen his personal differences with Daniel Bryan take precedent over the actual wrestling and superstars. Their bickering and tension led to Styles v Owens going on for months longer than it needed to and has led to some terribly lazy writing in the process. SDLive is not the land of opportunity, it is the Shane McMahon show.
Daniel Bryan is a different story altogether. He is universally adored and respected for his ability, phenomenal career and heart-breaking early retirement. He is the general manager, someone whose character and job it is to defuse tension, make matches, interact with superstars etc. and he performs this job well. He appears as much as Kurt Angle does on RAW and that is completely the way it should be as they are both fan favourites who we are happy to see sticking around. But the constant need to have Shane on TV has dampened the impact that Bryan has. It never felt like it was about the management when Bryan was on screen, even during his great backstage rivalry with The Miz, but as soon as Shane appears it just becomes so draining to watch.
The major appeal of Bryan throughout the latter stages of his career was that he was fighting against The Authority, constantly having to battle against all odds with his tyrannical bosses who were trying to hold him down. He was the common man, fighting and scratching for what he deserved and that is something which will always resonate with fans. However, over the course of the last 6 months he is becoming nothing more than just another suit in the back, playing politics and bickering with talent, which has recently led to small sections of the live crowds booing him. WWE have well and truly fucked this up and if it leads to a Shane v Bryan match, like they’re constantly teasing us with, I genuinely don’t think I’ll be able to keep supporting the product. Bryan deserves better and so do the fans. The only way I would take this match is if it was ‘loser leaves the company’ kind of deal, because there isn’t a chance in hell Bryan would lose and we would finally be rid of the geriatric, embarrassing, skin crawling, professional botcher, ego stroking, sneaker wearing piece of shit.
So to summarise, if SDLive want to climb back to the top of the mountain they need to:
Utilize the Superstar Shakeup, especially as they will likely lose Styles to RAW. Explore NXT and call up guys like Gargano who would thrive under the management of Bryan seeing as they are so similar (don’t believe me? Read this!). Invest time building Charlotte v Asuka as the new Charlotte v Sasha. Bring back the exciting tag team turmoil we grew so accustomed to last year. Give Shane much less TV time, only really utilizing him if the occasion requires the main bosses involvement to give it a sense of importance.
Never mind making it the blue brand…make these changes and it can be THE brand.