wrestling / Columns

The 8 Ball: 8 Things Smackdown Needs To Do To Improve

September 2, 2016 | Posted by Samuel Hayward
AJ Styles Raw Image Credit: WWE

The WWE Brand Extension is now off and running. SummerSlam is over and behind us and Survivor Series, the next inter-promotional Pay-Per-View is not until the end of November. Until then, both brands will have PPVs exclusive to their own rosters, which will allow them to showcase their brand’s strength in a way previously unavailable to them.

The two events we’ve had since the WWE Draft took place have each had a different feel and atmosphere. Battleground was less than a week after the Draft, where half the matches had men on either roster fighting against each other and the World Championship being contested for by both shows. Needless to say, it was a wrap-up show for the previous chapter in WWE’s story.

SummerSlam was more about Raw and Smackdown finding their footing within this new era: the WWE Universal Championship was introduced and its inaugural champion crowned; Dolph Ziggler was experimented with as a serious contender for the world title. The thing that stood out and has been a major talking point amongst fans since it occurred is the ending to Lesnar vs Orton. Blood spilt out of the Viper’s head from a viciously stiff elbow, causing the ref to end the match and declare the Beast Incarnate the winner by technical knockout. The controversial decision has sparked debate in wrestling fans about the level of realism involved in the match. This realism has slowly leaked onto both Raw and Smackdown since they began, which seems to indicate that this is the way forward for the company.

Despite winning the World Championship at Battleground, Smackdown has overall felt like the B-Brand in both the Draft and PPVs. This is now the chance for WWE to prove that this is not the case. There are several things that must be done in order for Tuesday Nights to improve in quality. Some may occur overnight; others may take months to accomplish. These are the 8 things I feel need to take priority. It was really hard to decide what order to place these 8 points because I feel a lot of the points are fairly crucial for the improvement of the product. Whether you agree or disagree, read on and let me know in the comments!

Number Eight – Give Wyatt a Purpose: I cannot stress my level of excitement when I heard Wyatt was drafted to Smackdown. There were two reasons for this: he one of Smackdown’s top drafts, and he was drafted alone. Whilst many complained that Raw stole much more of the upper card talent and Smackdown was left with an overall weaker roster, there was also recognition that this was an opportunity for development with superstars that previously hadn’t been made room for in the main event picture, Wyatt included in that group of performers.

What’s more, he could be made to look like a main eventer all on his own. He was drafted without the Family alongside him, which would seem to indicate for all intents and purposes that, similar to AJ Styles, he would be riding solo in his crusade to the top.

Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. Erick Rowan ended up showing up again as his ever loyal henchman, and the two have so far engaged in a short-lived feud with Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, purely to further their story rather than make the Wyatt Family look strong. Now, post-SummerSlam, Wyatt is confirmed to face Randy Orton at Backlash in what is sure to be nothing more than the oft-recycled, directionless feud that he’s had with other big names like John Cena and the Undertaker. As a bonus point, more often than not, Wyatt ends up losing these feuds too, so not off to a great start with the Brand Extension for the New Face of Fear.

There needs to be more to Wyatt than cryptic promos and predictable feuds. I can’t believe that that needs to be actually stated. Creative are being lazy with the Eater of Worlds because they just can’t seem to figure out what to do with him. Even Wyatt has stated in interviews that they don’t know what to with the Family. Surely, there is something that can be done with him.

I’m just spitballing ideas here, have him beat Rowan with a Singapore cane after each match like Raven would to the Flock until he and the returning Luke Harper turn face and rebel against him. Another idea could be to have people ‘sell their soul to the devil’ so to speak and hire the Family as their henchman, only for Wyatt to attack them after he’s done the job to get them to ‘pay for their sins’ by joining him. Or, quite simply, he could just use his mind games to chase the title and then, having won the strap, become the hunted for once rather than the hunter. There’re several new and refreshing directions to send him down, just choose one and run with it. Wyatt desperately needs more than what he’s getting, especially if Vince McMahon believes him to be the new era’s Undertaker.

Number Seven – Cena and Orton Team Up: I like throwing the occasional wildcard into the mix. With this point, once you think about, there is some validity to the idea. The tag team division on Smackdown needs some serious bolstering if it’s going to be taken seriously or bring competition to Raw’s better-established side. There are all of six tag teams currently active within the roster. In order to fill a tournament to crown new champions, they had to call in veteran tag team alumni the Headbangers, as well as throw Heath Slater together with Rhyno. Of these six tag teams, only The Usos and American Alpha can be taken serious right now as credible champions, and whilst Alpha look primed to take the belts, but they’ll need some legitimate challengers to edify their reign. Enter the two biggest names on Tuesday nights.

Their feud went on for years, to the point of drones and negative chants elicited by the WWE Universe for having seen the same match so many times. No two men hated each other more than these two since the dawn of the Ruthless Aggression Era. Both men have successfully captured tag team gold with different partners, although the partnerships were often short-lived.

Now, I would prefer for these two men to stay away from the World Title picture. Let new faces like Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles take the reins and, in time, let guys like Baron Corbin and Apollo Crews begin to break the glass ceiling. In the meantime, use the veteran status of Orton and Cena to bring repute and prestige to another championship.

Let them say that they will come together for the sole purpose of capturing these titles, because they want to be recorded in Smackdown’s history as the greatest tag team champions in the new belt’s history. By saying that these two multiple time world champions want these belts, you immediately make them seem more desirable. You only need to look at what happened with Cena’s US Title Open Challenge to see how easily these guys could increase the value of a belt by being associated with it.

Now, Randy Orton is about to enter into a relatively pointless feud with Wyatt as previously mentioned. Cena, meanwhile, is allegedly taking a break to film the second season of American Grit. Because of these things, this may not happen for a while. But upon the conclusion of both of these projects, the two could resurface and finally join forces to give the Smackdown Tag Team titles credibility. And should that happen, whoever dethroned these men would become a true force to be reckoned with within the division.

Number Six – Turn Ziggler Heel: We almost had this at SummerSlam with Ziggler failing to capture world championship gold against Dean Ambrose. I honestly thought that the Show-Off would be attacking the Lunatic Fringe after the match was over. I’m disappointed to be wrong about that. What’s more, with this past episode of Smackdown, it seems to be that he will be championing Daniel Bryan as a face in a program with The Miz. It looks like, for now at least, Ziggler will simply be a more intense face than he usually is.

Reflecting on his career, his has enjoyed far more success as a heel and he could have ever hoped to as a face. When playing the role of a bad guy, he has enjoyed two WWE World Championship reigns, albeit both of them were short-lived. After all of his years of hard work, after his successful Money in the Bank Briefcase cash-in the night after WrestleMania, the crowd and the WWE Universe turned him face, screaming louder than ever had for him in celebration.

As a face, he has struggled his push his way into the main event picture. Maintaining the cocky show-off gimmick that he maintained as a bad guy, his flamboyant style made him an excellent foil for several villains to be put over against, but he never received the spotlight he deserved. Despite years of outcry for him to receive a real main event push, it was repeatedly teased but ultimately has yet to come to fruition. Ziggler seems to be another person that suffers because of WWE Creative, who cannot seem to find a direction for him.

The solution is simply to go back to what worked before. Turning him heel not only makes sense, playing his frustration in his failure to succeed when it counts but will allow him to play up the finer points of his character that made him so viciously hated during his initial heel run.

Number Five – Miz Rivals Honky Tonk: I’m a big fan of The Miz’ recent work as the Hollywood A-Lister. Whether he was working with Damien Sandow or running alongside his real-life wife, Maryse, he has been an incredibly entertaining heel and proven himself to be a hidden gem within the company, not really receiving the recognition he deserved, despite being Intercontinental Champion, until he delivered an incredible and intense promo against Daniel Bryan on Talking Smack.

This recent angle could turn into a really interesting feud, with Bryan throwing high-flyers and risk takers up against Miz and the Awesome One knocking each one down using a less dangerous move set and incorporating cheap heel tactics to drive fans irate. His increasing bragging rights and pompous personality would only fuel the fire in the program as fans kept looking for each new opponent to be the one to finally take him down a notch.

What does this remind you older fans of? The Honky Tonk Man’s record-setting reign as Intercontinental Champion. At 454 days, very few men have even come close to stepping up to match this run as champ. He was a phenomenal champion and an even better heel, and when he was finally beaten, The Ultimate Warrior’s momentum propelled him to the moon.

The Miz could do the same thing for someone in a year’s time. Just imagine his smug face as he announces that he has become the longest reigning champion in history, and finally someone comes out, knocks him down, destroys him in the ring and takes the belt for themselves. Whoever it was that beat him would become an instant megastar. It wouldn’t matter if it was Dolph Ziggler, Apollo Crews, or a debuting NXT superstar, like say, Shinsuke Nakamura…

Number Four – Give Call-ups Development: Let’s list the recent NXT call-ups that are currently on the Smackdown roster. The Vaudevillains, Baron Corbin, Tyler Breeze, Apollo Crews, Mojo Rawley, Alexa Bliss, Carmella and American Alpha. Heck, let’s be generous. Add Kalisto to that list too. May as well, he shares the same lack of development that the rest of them have.

Ok, that’s not exactly fair. Carmella’s heel turn shows some promise as she develops against a more seasoned performer, Nikki Bella. American Alpha are ready to become the inaugural Smackdown Tag Team Champions. Apollo Crews… well, he spells stuff out to people sometimes… that’s kind of it as far as development is concerned for this list of performers.

All of these people are featured fairly regularly on Tuesday night’s programming, and at some point, they will likely be featured more prominently as they are given chances to push themselves further up the ladder. The only way that this will be able to happen is if the fans are given the opportunity to really invest in these men. The Vaudevillains have a unique gimmick, sure. All of them have something to separate them from the rest but it’s mostly just in the gimmick or in little nuances. For the most part, they’re all just slots on a roster with no true identity.

Giving them solid feuds to work with rather than sporadic matches and segments is the best way to give people a chance to support them. Letting the Hype Bros feud specifically with The Vaudevillains with a legitimate story behind it would create more expansion and make both teams more credible threats to the tag titles. Let Corbin and Kalisto play around more with this feud they have currently and watch it blossom into a classic David and Goliath story.

The more opportunities to push themselves these people are given, the less Smackdown will seem like it got the short end of the straw with the WWE Draft.

Number Three – Bolster Women’s Division: There’s a lot of decent performers in the Smackdown women’s division right now. Nikki Bella returned to a monumental reception, Becky Lynch continues to impress as a babyface, even Eva Marie has been entertaining (mostly because she hasn’t actually wrestled yet). There’s been a decent start for the division and we’ve hit the ground running. The issue is where we go from there.

Right now, character wise, each member of the division is pretty basic. Natalya is a heel because she’s a heel. Naomi has a decent new look to go with her energetic performance but yet to deliver a promo to add to her character. Alexa Bliss has only just been introduced and has yet to really give off an impression as to what footprint she’ll leave. To put it bluntly, the majority of characters are either one-dimensional or non-dimensional.

Similar to what’s going on with the NXT call-ups, there needs to be more development in both story and character in order for this division to flourish. Right now, only two people can be considered the inaugural Smackdown Women’s Champion: Becky Lynch and Nikki Bella. Everyone else needs more time to be pushed. As said before, they’re off to a good start with Carmella’s heel turn against Bella. All it needs is more, more, more…

Number Two – Styles Wins World Title: I never thought I’d see the face of TNA beat the face of WWE clean on a WWE PPV. Yet, here we are, with the Phenomenal One beating the Face That Runs the Place at SummerSlam. And now, barely a month later, AJ Styles is going to challenge for the WWE World Championship on a PPV for the fourth time this year. Who knows, maybe the fourth time is the charm.

At the beginning of this column, I stated that some of these points may occur overnight, whilst some may take months to accomplish. This is the one that more than any other needs to happen sooner rather than later. Credit to Dean Ambrose, when he captured the World Championship at Money in the Bank, it was a payoff that felt incredible and momentous and exciting and wonderful. Fast forward to heading towards Backlash, and Ambrose feels like he has been established firmly as a mid-card champion by the company’s programming.

He’s a good champion and a great performer, but there’s still this feel around him that he’s not the number one guy. He was deemed less important than Seth Rollins was in the WWE draft, despite holding the strap, he was pushed to the middle of SummerSlam’s card against, quite frankly, an unworthy opponent in Dolph Ziggler. He was devalued by a system designed to push him down and now he feels like the underdog going against AJ Styles, a man who carries all the momentum in the world coming off a clean John Cena victory.

I don’t doubt Ambrose will continue to be a fantastic main eventer within Smackdown’s roster, but for now, at least, he benefits more being rebuilt as a chaser rather than a defender. Styles is primed and ready to become the locker room leader and help push Smackdown as the flagship show for WWE. He’d have a great run as a heel champ and will build up any fresh face who’s put into a program against him.

Number One – Fade Bryan and McMahon Out of Product: It’s my favourite rant to have. The authority figures have WAY too much screen time. The common theme in several of my points has been that superstars haven’t been given enough time to develop and we as fans can’t invest in them as a consequence. You know where that screen time is all going? To General Manager Daniel Bryan and COO Shane McMahon.

It’s one thing I really can’t stand about WWE’s product in recent years. In their vanity, the McMahons have endlessly been all over the product. It was understandable with the heel Mr McMahon character in the Attitude Era. Vince’s children, however, are not nearly as strong characters as he was, and even he has lost some quality over the years because of constant exposure. We’ve been getting the same story reused over and over of heel authority figures being conquered and replaced by face authority figures only to be buried and replaced by heel authority figures and so the cycle goes on and on and on. It gets tired fast.

The truth is we don’t need it in today’s programming. Most storylines are capable of writing themselves. The Dean Ambrose/Dolph Ziggler feud didn’t require any involvement from Bryan and McMahon whatsoever. The commentary team could have announced all the details for the fans and Ambrose and Ziggler could further the feud quite easily by themselves. However, they kept going back to Bryan and McMahon.

The constant interactions with them hurt the stories that they’re more directly involved in. If we only ever saw Bryan when he interacted with The Miz in their feud, it would appear more personal and intense. If McMahon only involved himself with Heath Slater onscreen, their interactions and story would feel more important than just a passing 5-minute comedic bit.

I understand the need for them to be present when introducing the new championships to the show, but now that they’ve done that, just let the tag and women’s division respectively tell their own stories around chasing the belts.

There’s plenty of reasons not to have them so heavily involved in the show. When necessary, it’s fine and should be encouraged to make the story appear more important with them involved. But only when absolutely necessary. The WWE Brand Extension is now off and running. SummerSlam is over and behind us and Survivor Series, the next inter-promotional Pay-Per-View, is not until the end of November. Until then, both brands will have PPVs exclusive to their own rosters, which will allow them to showcase their brands strength in a way previously unavailable to them.