Friday 29 July 2011

Better is Better

With all the attention RAW’s been getting recently thanks to CM Punk, Vince McMahon and Triple H it strikes me that SmackDown isn’t receiving the praise it deserves. For the past several months now the blue brand has been providing viewers with a consistent and enjoyable product. The long term plans and building of new stars shows that WWE is considering the future more than they have for the last half decade. It’s good news and should be treated as such.

I’ll start by drawing attention to Mark Henry. This may be the 437th time he’s been pushed as a monster heel, but unlike previous occasions mostly everything is being done right. He’s been put over equally large and intimidating competitors and been credited for various storyline injuries which makes him seem far more unstoppable than he ever has before. More importantly he’s not been rushed into challenging for the world title. I can remember a similar push in 2006 where he was chosen as the opponent for World Heavyweight champion Kurt Angle completely out of the blue. The two had a decent match at the Royal Rumble, but everyone knew who was going to win because the former ‘Sexual Chocolate’ had come from nowhere to wrestle in the main event.

The slower approach and the way Henry has been built up make him far more credible. I still don’t think WWE would go all the way and give him the championship, but I think he’d be an acceptable challenger to a babyface champion at this point. He has an imposing look and an edge to his voice when cutting promos that makes him credible. Both he and WWE have done fine work since May.

Sheamus is another guy who has been used well lately. He was allowed to look dominant against both Randy Orton and Christian and now seems on course for a face turn. If and when that happens I think he could be incredibly popular. He has a clear sense of humour, a unique appearance and the ability to work an enjoyable match with anyone on the roster. I’ve said before that if he were one of the good guys he could become the new face of SmackDown. That’s still the case.

I originally thought we’d see him included in the Orton versus Christian feud in time for a triple threat match at SummerSlam but it appears that’s no longer the case. The new direction (a feud with Wade Barrett) should be fine as long as it doesn’t last too long and stall the ‘Celtic Warrior’s’ momentum.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he were World Heavyweight champion by the end of the year. Nor would I be surprised if he ended up feuding with Mark Henry at some point.

I have a lot of time for Ezekiel Jackson. He doesn’t wrestle a style I like and doesn’t have any impressive moves, but if his push continues on its current path he could stand a chance of becoming a big star. He’s a limited worker and his mic skills aren’t that good, but he still routinely gets decent reactions from crowds. It would be easy enough for an intelligent writing team to keep him away from microphones and keep feeding him expendable heels and jobbers.

Still disagree? Think of it this way: how enjoyable would it be to see him knock John Cena unconscious? Your answer is probably “very”, which goes to show that if booked right ‘Zeke could progress beyond the 1980s smiley babyface approach and develop a genuine appeal.

A month or so ago we saw Nattie Neidhart mentoring AJ and Kaitlyn in a feud with Alicia Fox and Tamina. That storyline appears to have been dropped (or possibly demoted to Superstars, a show I don’t keep up with that match), which is a shame as it featured two of the most naturally charismatic and genuinely popular divas WWE has at its disposal in AJ and Kaitlyn. These aren’t former models signed to contracts because of their looks like some of the divas, they’re women with a clear passion for wrestling. That translates into their matches and promos andshould be enough to earn them a spot on TV each week. Hopefully they (and Natalya) can return to the blue brand to finish what they started. It had the makings of a nicely paced feud that could have gone in a few different directions.

Money in the Bank saw Bryan ‘Daniel Bryan’ Danielson get a promotion. By booking him to win the ladder match it’s clear the SmackDown writing team has plans for him. For the immediate future those plans may just be meaningless bouts with the likes of charisma vacuum Heath Slater, but being ‘Mr Money in the Bank’ means that Bryan’s guaranteed a “big” moment at some point, whether his cash-in is successful or not.

His announcement on the July 22nd show that he would use the briefcase to guarantee himself a title shot at WrestleMania could be played a few different ways. The first and most obvious is that the former ‘Mr Small Package’ really could end up wrestling the champion at next year’s Miami supershow. Danielson in a world title match at ‘Mania would certainly cater to the hardcore fan market, which WWE seem to be paying more attention to lately, but that by no means guarantees it’ll happen.

Alternatively, we could see Danielson cash-in and win the title at any point before WrestleMania (the Royal Rumble would be the ideal time) and begin a slow heel turn by saying that he deliberately misled the fans and the wrestlers by lying about his plans. He has the verbal skills to pull off such a storyline and by having him take joy from fooling the fans he’d be guaranteed heat.

He could also cash-in early and become a big face by saying that he’d intended to wait until WrestleMania but the champion was so annoying and arrogant that he just had to beat them earlier. This would work especially well right now with Christian as the champion: he’s so disliked that Danielson could very easily be presented as a hero saving us from the egomaniacal ‘Captain Charisma’.

Particular praise should go to the Christian and Randy Orton feud. It’s been going since early May and it’s a credit to both the writing team and the wrestlers that it’s still managing to entertain us. The popularity of Orton, Christian’s effectiveness as a heel, and the (mostly) well timed twists and turns have all played their part to make this a contender for feud of the year. Above all it’s the quality of the matches that have made this feud stand out. Simply put it’s rare to get matches of such length and quality in WWE today.

The feud should be drawing to a close at or shortly after SummerSlam and I hope WWE has plans for both men afterwards. Christian holding on to the belt and segueing into a feud with Danielson or Sheamus would be ideal, freeing Orton up for his inevitable feud with Mark Henry. That second idea may not sound appealing but I think Henry v Orton has the potential to be surprisingly decent.

I’ve not even mentioned the good work that’s been done with the Usos (though sadly the tag team resurgence many predicted hasn’t materialised), Jinder Mahal, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, Sin Cara (before his Wellness violation caused him to be taken off TV), and Kane (finding new things for that character to do after fourteen years on TV isn’t easy). Mahal and Rhodes in particular have the potential to progress to the main event if used correctly. It’s nice to see WWE preparing them properly and giving them time to develop.  

If you happen to have read this without being a regular viewer of SmackDown I’d suggest you give it a try. While it doesn’t have the spectacle and revelations of RAW it does provide better wrestling and a more slow-paced approach to feuds and character building. In other words it provides exactly what WWE needs right now.

No comments:

Post a Comment