Various Smackdown Thoughts
So, since I covered Raw on Tuesday, I thought it would only be fair to now cover Smackdown. I don’t usually write on weekends, so it’s hard to recap the Blue Brand while it’s relevant, but I figured it’s better late than never to discuss not just the most recent episode, but the storylines on the brand in general.
BIG SHOW vs DANIEL BRYAN
It’s saddening to see the angle in many ways. While I won’t deny Big Show is a star, and is more over at this time than Daniel Bryan, I find it a shame that they have decided to alter D-Bry’s character so much as World Champion. A man who had a reputation of fighting with honor is now doing ALMOST everything possible to erase that. I have no problem with a heel turn, but it just seems poorly conceived. I get the feeling that WWE feel that the only way to make someone of Bryan Danielson’s size a threat is to make him a cheap heel. This is just not true. It sort of reminds me of Christian earlier in 2011. While I won’t deny that Christian’s heel turn went quite well, and helped raise his stock within the company, it still felt like the cheap way out. Just like now.
I’m not suggesting a Big Show heel turn in place either. To continue on a point I made Tuesday, WWE lacks face characters. Big show might not be a crossover draw, but he’s definitely a valuable star, and one that shouldn’t be dismissed easily. He’s one of the few large men that can draw sympathy without issue from the Universe, so take advantage of it, especially while Randy Orton is injured. I think a mutual respect based angle of face Show vs face Bryan would have been much more beneficial to everyone. It’s easy to say in retrospect how things should have gone (Show vs Bryan, booked Rumble Title Match via MITB, Bryan loses respectably, but keeps fighting for a shot and finally wins with a handshake at WrestleMania…etc.) but it couldn’t have been planned this way due to Orton’s injury. I don’t know how severe Randy is hurt, or if it’s all been planned out, but I’m assuming they wouldn’t allow the top brand star to disappear during the build to the Rumble for no reason, so I’m sure it’s valid.
At the end of the day though, it’s hard to get into this Daniel the bad guy angle. Thankfully, there have been some nice touches that have kept him still rather face-like. While Bryan is heelish in how he’s doing promos glorifying himself, the way he stood up to Big Show on SD with his hand on his shoulder in the backstage interview segment was not a cheap heel move. Bryan fought valiantly during that main event, until taking a cheap ending, which seemed mostly like a last resort. Also on this past Raw, the way Bryan accepted Big Show’s challenge for another World Title match, while reluctantly, accepting with a handshake, was a huge step too.
In the end, while he’s somewhat cheap and heelish, he’s not a bitch. At all. That’s impressive, coming from Vinny Mac. Even Mark Henry helped on commentary, with his extremely well delivered praise of both Show and Bryan. Henry might have done more while sitting at the booth to build up Bryan than anything, except for the first Raw after TLC with CM Punk leading the brigade. It might be wishful thinking, or silver lining searching, but WWE seems like they refuse to go down the EXACT same road they did with Christian, and keeping some of Daniel Bryan’s credibility as a “shooter” in tact. I don’t know how long it will last though.
The problem with turning him full heel is that the Smackdown roster is rather depleted of main event names as is, and runs dry outside of Big Show at the moment. While Orton vs Bryan may be inevitable, he’s injured. After Big Show, if Orton is out 6 months (again, who knows) there’s Sheamus. That’s it. Like on Raw, the heels out ratio the faces 2:1, so turning D-Bry heel seems ridiculous, as he’ll get lost in the shuffle of the Barrett Barrage, Christian’s eventual return, the rise of Rhodes, and the continuing onslaught of Mark Henry. Adding Bryan into the mix of heel threats would lessen his value.
In the past, I’ve compared Daniel Bryan to Bret Hart, in the sense that they aren’t characters, but present themselves as legitimate hard working athletes. They are rare these days, but they made it work, and they worked best as face wrestlers. If Bryan’s future is as a heel in 2012, than I say scrap Hart as a role model, and instead look towards Chris Benoit as a template for legit badass villain. Benoit could cheat, but at no point did he lose his ability to beat someone. That would be essential for Daniel Bryan’s continuing success. Benoit had credibility as the underdog face against legit main eventers due to how he could be a beast as a heel. So, Daniel Bryan could lose the title to Big Show, but stay relevant by making faces tap in disgusting displays of raw talent, not caring about liability. It’s not much of a difference from his independent heel work, but comparing it to a WWE blue print like Chris Benoit might help paint the picture properly.
LACK OF ORTON
Before I discuss the hole left on the blue brand thanks to his injury, I’d like to praise Orton for being one of the best wrestlers of 2011. Not only did he have amazing performances throughout the entire year (though the Punk feud was underwhelming), but he paved the way for WWE to move forward from the Cena-era. After moving to Smackdown, he has made Christian, Mark Henry, Cody Rhodes, and now Wade Barrett all look outstandingly better than they did before their angles with the Apex Predator. He lost to these guys, sometimes clean. And yet, he is still just as big a star. He didn’t lose any steam. The time on Smackdown has created a distance between him and Cena at a time when they desperately needed it. At the Royal Rumble last year, WWE expected the confrontation between the 2 in the battle royale match to blow the roof off the TD Garden in Boston. Instead, the reaction was lukewarm at best. The point is that Orton and Cena were tied at the hip, with the “SUPER” label slapped on both of them, with rumors of a Wrestlemania match upcoming. Instead, they avoid that, drafted Orton to Smackdown, and opened up the entire WWE because of it. And the idea of Orton vs Cena at Wrestlemania is no longer sigh-worthy, but a fresh option because of the space they’ve had.
Randy Orton being off Raw gave room for upward mobility on Cena’s home turf. Without Orton as the #2, CM Punk became a go-to guy, Zack Ryder is now a major rising star, and the WWE Title scene is rather fresh in general.
But now on Friday nights, the one mistake they’ve made is securing more future stars for a time when Orton needs to step away. They have an opportunity right now with Daniel Bryan as I mentioned (I wouldn’t call it a golden opportunity, because while I’m a Bryan fan, I don’t see him being a true main event draw and star), but it’s somewhat a little late as Orton is no longer in the picture, leaving on Big Show and perhaps Sheamus to carry the load of cheers. Big show has been tremendous on this recent run of work against Mark Henry, but Sheamus has been floundering since working with Christian before his injury. He hasn’t been jobbed out, nor has he lost credibility, but he hasn’t been doing much at all. It’s pretty obvious that nobody was sure what to do with him while concentrating on Henry vs Show, Orton against Rhodes and Barrett, and D-Bry as Mr. Money in the Bank. The main heels on the brand have been tied up, so it left him with lower card wrestlers like Jinder Mahal and Heath Slater to work with. Why they didn’t attempt using him in the tag division, I don’t know, but so be it. Now that Orton is hurt, Sheamus is in a perfect place to slide right in and be Wade Barrett’s biggest problem.
While the angle with Barrett is doing wonders for the Brit, it would honestly be one of the last fresh heel storylines left for Orton. He’s far from run roughshod over the roster, but other than avenging the title loss to Henry, the Daniel Bryan turn might be the best thing to happen to Orton.
Randy has cemented himself as a centerpiece of a brand. He might not be the insane star that Cena is, but he’s credible and capable to captivate, similar to how HHH was working from 2000-2006. He’ll always be a strong heel, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted the success he has had as a face. He’s done wonders on Smackdown, and has developed a great generation of almost main eventers, but I think he’s reached the limit of what he can do as a top face within the current Smackdown roster. It’s stupid to discuss the draft this early, and I’m not predicting shit, but I suggest switching Orton for Cena come draft time. Keep these 2 apart for another year, and barring Taker vs Cena for Mania 29, Orton vs Cena seems like a great main event by this point.
Orton’s return to Raw would allow him to work extensively with some guys he’s had quick and forgettable angles with, like Del Rio, Miz, Ziggler, and Swagger.
But honestly, it seems like it’s almost time to turn him heel again
It might seem strange to be discussing Tamina in the midst of a conversation based on the Smackdown main event scene (Bryan, Show & Orton) but I felt her recent events deserved mention. While she’s far from the standard Diva in terms of looks, I have enjoyed her recent Smackdown work. The splash from the top rope has been looking awesome, and definitely has shown her potential to be a challenger to Beth Phoenix (if she ever returns). Future looks good for Tamina, even if her face does not.
THE FEEL OF ECW ON SCI-FI, BUT WITHOUT DIRECTION
The midcard on Smackdown is insanely directionless. Heath Slater and Hornswaggle feud? DiBiase and Hunico? Marella vs McIntyre? That’s with Jinder Mahal, Justin Gabriel, Big Zeke, Trent Barreta, and Tyson Kidd sprinkled about, along with Yoshi Tatsu representing on NXT. And somehow there’s not enough tag teams in the WWE? With all these names without any real direction, it seems shameful that teams haven’t been thrown together recently apart from Epico and Primo. There’s a lot of talent on this list, and lots of potential. In fact, one of my next columns will be some teams that fit together out of the guys that are barely hanging on to their TV time.
My point though is that the potential is there for so much to be done with these guys, if only something as simple as a best of 5/7 rivalry to help get these guys over. I won’t pretend that each and every one of those men have a real future in WWE, nor am I a fan of them all. But I do feel each and every one of them could be used better. How Zeke isn’t in a brute tag team like Demolition, how McIntyre is in a losing streak angle, or why Tyson Kidd isn’t in the ring more often (on TV, not internet)… it’s all beyond my comprehension. Yet we get Jinder, Heath and Hunico getting microphone time?
On ECW, they took a group of wrestlers extremely similar to these guys and built a brand around them. They have essentially done that with NXT, but it seems wasteful when they have established guys who have already proven themselves in some form.
Instead of giving us a match that will get no real reaction from the audience with only 2 of these guys, make it a fatal four way contendership match for Cody Rhodes and his Intercontinental Title. It won’t take any extra screen time, will add a layer of interest towards a match that would have been forgettable otherwise. I can see that Cody has a match on the upcoming Smackdown, and had that person won a contendership match the week before, wouldn’t the upcoming face-off mean so much more?
That was part of the magic of WWE’s version of ECW, they took guys that would have been wasted on the main brands, and rejuvenated them, building a brand that delivered a better program weekly than Raw, Smackdown or TNA. I understand that it wasn’t perfect, but the ratings were better than what NXT delivered (because it was better) and it helped develop stars in a method somehow not available on the longer Monday and Friday shows. So while the freedom gave room for Zack Ryder to spike his hair for the first, and for Christian to be a successful WWE brand champion for the first time, the freedom doesn’t seem to be there on Smackdown with the midcard talents.
And on that note, peace out.
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