Red Vs Blue

WWE Behind Closed Doors | Red vs. Blue (SmackDown 13/3/20 & Raw 16/3/20)

Benjamin Clem looks at two unique episodes of Raw and SmackDown.

In the wake of a global pandemic, WWE sought to deliver entertainment to the isolated masses in this week’s Red versus Blue.

There is definitely something to be said about Vince McMahon’s dedication to the “WWE Universe”. Although many feel that Vince, more often than not, fails to meet the expectations of fans of his product, actions such as the ones currently being taken and those taken during past events like 9/11 prove that the fanbase is a very high priority in the boss’ mind. Yes, it would be easy for WWE to go the way of the NBA, MLB, or the multitude of other sports organizations currently suspending their seasons, but instead, Vince has chosen to try and make the best of what he has.

Both Raw and Smackdown broadcasted from the empty WWE Performance Center this week in an attempt to give fans a sliver of normalcy and a few hours of distraction from the events currently taking place around the world. Working with a bare-bones skeleton crew, both shows featured replays of recent PPV matches, impassioned promos seemingly directed towards those watching at home, and a sparse handful of decent enough matches.

So, in the spirit of Vince’s decision to focus on the positives instead of the overwhelming negatives enveloping our planet, and in an attempt to avoid adding to the overall negativity, I’ve decided that this week’s edition of RvB will determine the best show of the week based solely on the positive highlights. This week’s shows were undoubtedly the best that could have been expected from the WWE in the wake of the spread of COVID-19, and in no way warrants me slamming the aspects that may have been less than well-received. So, with the idea of positivity in the front of our minds, it’s time to answer the question we gather every week to answer; which show was better?

You know the schtick, folks. I watch the shows, make the notes, and then deliver unto you fine readers my semi-informed opinion of which show was better overall. With a slightly somber introduction and usual explanation dutifully handled, it’s time for us to jump into the positive highlights of the week!

The Good

Friday night’s opening moments saw the appearance of a face most of us have gotten accustomed to only seeing during behind the scenes style WWE network programming. Amidst rumours of a recent “demotion”, Triple H welcomed fans watching to the Performance Center and continued to be a key component of the commentary team throughout the night. Triple H is undeniably one of the most charismatic wrestlers to ever work in a WWE ring, and having him present throughout the broadcast made it feel like we were watching a friend enjoying himself. Whether it was taking his turn as a camera operator or joking about his own supposed demotion, Hunter took every opportunity to create a sense of ease and comfortability for the viewers. As unnerving as the sight of an empty arena may be to some, Triple H’s involvement absolutely countered that with a needed dose of familiarity.

The Blue Brand’s next positive is the long-awaited return of Jeff Hardy. Friday’s show saw the “Charismatic Enigma” take on King Corbin in one of the better matches of the week. It’s always great to see an Attitude Era talent being able to successfully return to the ring after an injury. Yes, there was some controversy concerning WWE’s sudden renaming of the twisting cutter both Matt and Jeff Hardy are known for using, but overall Jeff’s inclusion on the Smackdown roster serves as a high-level addition for the Blue Brand. I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking about the quality of the match we could see down the road from Hardy and talent such as Shinsuke Nakamura.

Smackdown’s final highlight is the one on one promo between Bray Wyatt and John Cena that closed Friday’s show. What started as an in-ring interview consisting of Cena documenting his career lows and labelling Wyatt as “over-valued” quickly became possibly one of the tensest moments WWE has produced in recent years. Both the subtle use of known “insider” terms from Cena and Bray’s quick volley of the privileged accusation back at John made this entire spot feel more real than your average promo. Even the lack of a crowd aided this segment by creating a feeling of it being a tension-filled conversation rather than a televised moment. It very much seems like John and Bray are preparing for what could be the bloodiest match on this year’s Mania card.

Switching over to the Red Brand’s positives of the week, this week’s edition of the Monday night tradition kicked off with a memorable promo from Edge. Similar to Bray and Cena’s promo on Friday, the empty Performance Centre added to the impactfulness of Edge’s words as he spoke of Randy’s actions and his possible second retirement. It’s been a slow burn getting to this point in this rivalry, but it’s definitely become one of the most watchable aspects of WWE’s current programming. It’s safe to say that Edge and Orton are going to deliver a great match at Wrestlemania based on sheer talent alone, but emotional moments like this are what gets fans fully invested.

Raw’s next positive is the “contract signing” between AJ Styles and The Undertaker. Right from the start, this segment felt completely unique. First, we’re presented with an “American Bad Ass”-esque Taker stalking the ring, then AJ refuses to face the Phenom personally, and then Taker pulls some old school Deadman magic and finishes it all up with the image of his face to giant face with AJ on the Tron! It was obviously apparent that this was a segment specifically designed for the Performance Center and therefore wouldn’t have been near as well-received anywhere else. This very well might be the biggest example of WWE’s expert-level ability to turn chicken crap into chicken salad.

The final positive of the week is the closing segment that featured Raw’s guest of honour for the night. With March 16th being labelled as “Stone Cold Day”, most of last night’s show was structured around the eventual appearance of Hall of Famer Steve Austin. Stone Cold closed out Raw with a less than stellar proclamation of what “Stone Cold Day” should include before eventually stunning Byron Saxton. The real highlight of this segment was Becky Lynch suddenly appearing to share a Broken Skull IPA with the Texas Rattlesnake. If the WWE is going to smack us over the head with the idea of Becky being a female Steve Austin, then moments like this are at least easier to accept.

The Verdict

With shows being put on from an empty Performance Center possibly being the norm for the foreseeable future, these first impromptu shows gave us an idea of what we can expect moving forward. It’s obvious that Vince and company are thinking of their employee’s health while also trying to supply their fanbase with much-needed entertainment. Keeping that thought in mind, I’m going to have to call this week in favour of…

Once you got past the tag team elimination chamber replay and the general odd feeling that comes from an empty arena, Smackdown was a great show. The lack of a third hour allowed Friday’s show to feel more like a televised indy show than the overall slog feeling that plagued last night’s Raw. It’ll be interesting to see how the Performance Center dynamic works out for Wrestlemania now that it’s been announced to be taking place in Orlando. Well, with the Blue Brand winning this week’s battle of positivity, the time has come for me to bid you fine readers farewell the only way I know how.

Until next week, may all your kicks be super and every frog splash five stars!

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