With a successful re-launch of Monday Night Raw, the stage was set for SmackDown to complete a terrific week for the WWE.
Though, it was quickly apparent that this would not be the case unfortunately. The show ultimately wasn’t even close to Raw in terms of creativity and that “new” factor, it instead seemed to rely on the old guard which we will further discuss in the article.
At the end of the day, some of our biggest fears came true during the first edition of SmackDown Live. From a poor women’s division, to a lack of in-ring depth, the show struggled to build any type of momentum following the Battle Royal, until the main event match.
Booking wise, the company totally missed the mark and it seems unfathomable that they would put six guys in a main event match when you consider how small the roster already is, bit will discuss us that even further in our first “down” point. With that being said let's dive in. Here are the takeaways from the first ever SmackDown Live, enjoy!
15. Down: Booking Of The Show
If you mess this up, chances are the show is generally not going to be good. It got off to a promising start with a Battle Royal determining an extra participant in a six-pack challenge main event match set for later on in the night. The battle royal itself was all over the place, from terrible presentation from JBL and the announce team, to a match filled with botches, especially coming from Zack Ryder who picked a horrible time to have an off night.
The rest of the show failed to gain any type of flow, segments dragged on way too long for the most part and certain angles were useless. From Heath Slater to Miz TV, these segments were nothing but time fillers. On a show that promotes wrestling as its greatest asset, they really missed the mark on this night with only one match being worthwhile, the main event. The booking for it was also made a mess of, the timing was over shot, thus leading to the match finishing far too early. The production truck literally aired three replays of the finish. From a booking standpoint, it was really bad. Hopefully, improvements will be made in the near future.
14. Up: Kane Is Still A Draw
It's hard to believe that a 49 year old stole the show in the first match, but that was kind of a theme on the night with Dolph Ziggler, Randy Orton and Kane being the ones that truly shined. The Big Red Machine was certainly on his game eliminating several Superstars while still looking to be in remarkable shape. Out of all the wrestlers involved, Kane got by far the greatest pop and deserved to be in the final two.
His contributions can help in the long run, especially when you look at the thin roster. The Tuesday show can use everything they can get at this point including the Big Red Machine. Kane proved he can still go and adds another dimension to the show, as he can also work as either heel or face which certainly helps. Look for a possible long haul feud with the likes of up and coming star Baron Corbin.
13. Down: Roster Depth
We're not sure whose bright idea it was to involve six men in a main event match, as all it really did was show us how petite the SmackDown roster really is. You know things are bad when every wrestler fits on the apron.
This was a major concern following the draft and proved to be exactly that in the show's launch. Aside from the main event and Randy Orton, the show struggled to sustain any type of momentum because of its roster sizem which lacks stars that can draw and keep your attention throughout the show. With this in mind, it wasn't the best idea to put everyone into the first match of the show.
With American Alpha and Shelton Benjamin set to debut, the show will certainly be bolstered by these exciting talents who were insanely missed in the first episode of the show. Their involvement will be crucial in allowing the program to flow properly outside of the main event matchup. We look forward for their debuts and return.
12. Up: NXT Involvement
One of the major talking points of the show was how much of an impact the NXT alumni had. Baron Corbin, Apollo Crews and Becky Lynch were all given an opportunity to thrive. Starting with Becky, she was able to pick up a victory in the very first women’s match on SmackDown. It’s rather obvious that the division will revolve around her.
Apollo Crews officially made his mark. It took a while, but a brand split finally helped to put this stud on the map. Not only did he win the Battle Royal, but we also got to see his talents in the main event and he proved that he most certainly can hang with the big boys.
Finally, Baron Corbin was once again handed the reins. Whether you believe he’s ready or not is irrelevant at this point, as the WWE is clearly high on him, especially when you consider he and Apollo Crews were the most prominent players in the main event matchup in terms of in-ring time. His impact was felt and he must continue on this path.
11. Down: Not A Single Tag Match
Another major concern coming out of the draft was a lack of any type of division on the show. The women are all over the place in terms of draw value, while the tag team division outside of American Alpha seems to be nonexistent. Well, it seems like the WWE agrees with our concerns and decided to not book a single tag team bout on the entire card. Instead, the company chose to re-introduce us to Rhyno. No disrespect meant to him, but that made no sense.
No matter how you look at it, this was a major flaw to the program and hopefully the creative team addresses this very soon. The program is struggling for some type of division to create an added degree of excitement. As much as we love American Alpha, the team needs competition in order to thrive. Let’s hope this issue gets addressed.
10. Up: Bray Wyatt Back In The Main Event
One of the best parts of the SmackDown show was seeing Bray Wyatt once again. Not only was he on the show, but this time, he was back in the ring where he belongs, competing with the very best the show has to offer.
Some would have actually selected Bray to win the match, although that would have been a little premature, especially when you consider that the company is trying to build him back up. Doing so takes time and proper booking on a show by show basis. Throwing him into a championship match was not the solution, instead, the company did a great job of quickly incorporating him into the main event and allowing him to shine in the match.
I can’t wait to see what’s next for The New Face of Fear, as he will certainly add some much needed depth to the program.
9. Down: The Ascension
Part of what makes this brand split so unique is the fact that it allows so many Superstars to push the reset button. We saw it on SmackDown with Dolph Ziggler, however the same cannot be said for other acts on the show, which include the former dominant tag team that is The Ascension.
With a lack of tag teams on the roster, you’d think the creative team would be sensitive when it comes to duos. A priority should be to make certain teams great again like The Ascension who were, at one point, the talk of the underground down in NXT.
Instead, the powers that be decided to let both members of the team get eliminated and embarrassed by one man, Kane. What good can possibly come out of this? None. All it did was once again show us how badly the team has flopped on the WWE's main roster. The chance was there, but the company turned the other way and chose to continue on the irrelevancy route with the team. What a shame.
8. Up: Randy Orton
Thank God for Randy Orton. Apart from the main event, Randy gave fans something to enjoy and added some quality depth to the program, which it lacked severely. At the time of his selection, many fans were neutral about the pick, mainly because we hadn’t seen Orton in so long and forgot what he brings to the table, which is a ruthless character that is still extremely over with the WWE Universe. He arguably got the greatest pop of the night and proved he can still draw on the microphone and in the ring.
Although limited in his move set, it was still nice to see Orton back in the ring. He’s set to face Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam, but for now he will really hope he can help the show by providing some serious mid card depth to other stories like he did with The Miz. Our appreciation for Randy went up quite a bit after seeing what the program had to offer apart from the main event, I say it again, thank god for Randy!
7. Down: Women’s Segment
Yet another one of our fears came true, as SmackDown's women’s division looks like an absolute mess. You know things are bad when Eva Marie shines the most out of anyone else without saying a word and gracing us with her magnificent presence. Seriously though, the entire segment was an absolute mess and the Buffalo crowd had no reaction to any of the women. The entire segment just seemed too scripted and forced. It was like the writers were saying, here, these are the women on our show, enjoy.
The match between Becky and Natalya was decent and the two deserve some praise, but everything else after was just plain awful. How the creative team will get out of this one remains to be seen, but as of now, the division is off to a terrible start. Please, someone get Bayley down there immediately.
6. Up: Post Match Interviews/ Live Vignettes
These two elements were nice when it came to the presentation of the show and it really helped give it an old school feel. Renee Young interviewing wrestlers post match was pretty cool, as it gave long time wrestling fans a nostalgic feeling from the ways that Mean Gene would track down the victorious wrestler and get his immediate thoughts. For that, I applaud the show.
The live vignettes were also a really nice touch, as it truly added to the main event by hearing each Superstar talk about what it meant to them. This is what the WWE really lacked before the brand split, which was in show storytelling. The company did a great job of putting the focus on the actual show with these vignettes which added to the prestige of the main event. This is something I hope the creative team continues to pursue in the future, as they did a great job for the first show.
5. Down: No American Alpha
To an extent, having no American Alpha was like Finn Balor not showing up on Raw. I know that is a little farfetched, but to some fans the comparison is legitimate. American Alpha gives SmackDown something it desperately needs, which is something new and fresh. When you look at stars who shined on the first episode, you can see this is still a huge problem with the likes of Orton, Kane and Ziggler being the most noticeable assets on the show.
Where was that something new? Well, for some reason, the company decided to make us wait for next week. Why this decision was made is truly beyond me. To make things worse, Shelton Benjamin was also advertised, which is exciting, but why was he not booked in the opening show? Just think about having these three involved while taking out the Rhyno segment and the women’s division intro. I think we can all agree that we’d be having a much different conversation if that were the case.
4. Up: Dolph Ziggler
This new beginning has been huge for a handful of wrestlers, which includes The Show-Off himself, Dolph Ziggler. You can’t help but feel happy for the guy, as despite his tremendous talent, Dolph was constantly being booked as a low-end star, losing week in and week out. His promo before the match was brilliantly worked in and it felt like a shoot with Ziggler admitting to his failed past performances. We finally got to see the deeper side of Dolph and we hope to see this even further as the build up takes place between Ziggler and Ambrose in the next coming weeks.
Some won't like the decision, but at the end of that day, it was well deserved and set the stage for something interesting that brings a lot of curiosity to the table. After all, we haven’t seen Ziggler in the main event picture for a long time. The last time I can remember seeing him do anything of importance was pinning Seth Rollins at the 2014 Survivor Series after Sting threw his body over Seth for the victory, which dethroned The Authority.
It’ll be interesting to see how this story all unfolds now that he's back in the big picture.
3. Down: The Champion Didn’t Wrestle
You start the New Era with your champion sitting on the sidelines? Really? I absolutely hated this decision as a fan, especially when you consider what makes Ambrose so great is the fact the he is a fighting champion. Look, I’m not saying he had to defend his title, but why not put him in a regular singles match to show off the face of the program.
When you consider the overall booking of the show, I find it hard to believe that there wasn’t time for the champion. We really didn’t see much of him throughout the show and he didn't shine in any particular moment. You’d expect the program to milk their champion, but really, there was a limited talk about Ambrose throughout the entire show.
The way Dean was handled wasn’t the correct way, especially when your launching a new program. Having the face of the show wrestle is an absolute must and the company for some reason did not agree.
2. Up: AJ Styles
From his incredible diving 450 splash to making wrestlers look great, like taking a thunderous German suplex from Crews or even selling Dolph’s superkick to a tee, it’s so clear that this guy is just one step ahead of everyone else. He didn’t win the match, which was the correct decision, but once again Styles stole the show in a match he had no business shinning in.
When you think about SmackDown’s lackluster start, you can at least get excited by thinking about how much AJ still has to explore with so many talents on the roster that he hasn't faced yet. He’s going to become the face of the brand rather quickly (he arguably already is) and will help SmackDown compete against Raw as a legitimate show down the road.
The first SmackDown once again demonstrated how great he still is and how great he will be for a long, long time.
1. Down: Didn’t Feel New
The biggest down of the first SmackDown is that it failed to do something Raw successfully did in its first program, give us a new feeling. From the commentating to the set to the booking of the entire show, everything just felt overly scripted and badly booked.
JBL reminded fans why they're happy that he’s gone from Raw, as he kept trying to dethrone the voice of Mauro Ranallo throughout the entire program. We get that he's excited, but his enthusiasm just came off as annoying more than anything else. As for David Otunga, he didn’t provide any unique insights either, so the commentating was a major down throughout the show.
At the end of the day, the entire presentation was really repetitive and seemed rushed from a creative aspect. Maybe the fact that it went live for the first time under the new era was something new for the brand and it will take some time to get adjusted to.
All and all, we hope things will get better in the next episode.