Red Vs Blue

Tables, Ladders And Straps? | Red Vs Blue (SmackDown 3/1/20 & Raw 20/1/20)

Benjamin Clem looks at the latest episodes of SmackDown and Raw, and decides which brand is superior this week.

WWE makes an unexpected lean towards the extreme in this week’s Red Versus Blue!

Although it remains a highly debated subject, the inception of the current “PG Era” marked the definitive end for many tropes that had become very commonplace within the WWE during the acclaimed “Attitude Era”. Long gone are the days of “Bra and Panty” matches, HLA, and Live Sex Celebrations, as most fans would agree they should be. Recently, Impact Wrestling showed us how much the standards for expected behaviour have changed after a segment that would’ve felt in no way out of place during the “Attitude Era” earned the company a temporary ban from Twitch TV.

Overt sexism aside, the previous “Attitude” and “Ruthless Aggression” eras are absolutely not without their positives, with the biggest most likely being the dawn of the “hardcore” style. Now, yes, this was the style responsible for infamous moments such as ECW’s “Mass Transit” incident, but it can just as easily be heralded as the driving force behind the early careers of talents the likes of Jon Moxley, Will Ospreay, and Joey Janela. With companies like PWG and CZW still heavily featuring this “extreme” variant of professional wrestling, it comes as no surprise that even the WWE feels the need to scratch the “hardcore” itch at least once a year.

Within the last few years, events such as Extreme Rules and TLC have allowed the WWE to pay homage to their hardcore days without tarnishing the image of family-friendly programming they’ve fought immensely hard to establish. Blatantly naming shows as “extreme” while subtly teasing weapon use during the lead up to these shows gives WWE the opportunity to appeal to the older fanbase while also sheepishly warning them that it might be more than they’d want the younger fans to see. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s very rare to see WWE abruptly decide to embrace the hardcore style, especially right before one of their oldest pay per views.

This week’s offerings of WWE television content jumped headfirst into the extreme rules pool, as Smackdown hosted a table match main event as well as the announcement of a strap match, and Monday Night Raw featured a ladder match for the United States Championship. As All Elite Wrestling continues to beat NXT in the ratings while promoting “lights out” matches and live lashings, it’s definitely probable that this is yet another WWE attempt to sway viewership back to their product. However, the attention being paid by Vince and Company to their competition is not the subject we’ve gathered to debate.

You know the shtick, ladies and gentlemen. Every week, I watch the shows, make the notes, and then deliver unto you fine readers my semi-informed opinion of which show was better overall. So, with a long-winded introduction and hasty explanation out of the way, it’s time to launch into this week’s Red Versus Blue with the positive highlights!

The Good

Friday night’s show kicked off with an overly promoted appearance by WWE living legend and current Knox County Mayor, Kane. The “Big Red Machine” devilishly touched on his history in the Royal Rumble match before being abruptly interrupted by a Bray Wyatt Firefly Funhouse vignette. Wyatt ominously referenced past feuds between himself and Kane, and then closed with remarks implying that “The Fiend” still had Kane on his radar. Bray’s words became all too apparent as the end of Funhouse vignette immediately lead to the frightening emergence of “The Fiend” from within the ring. However, Wyatt’s terrifying presence would quickly become one of confusion as Kane reacted with complete indifference and a single foreboding question…”What took you so long?”

Suddenly realizing the mistake he’d made, Bray turned away from Kane only to be met with a running knee from Daniel Bryan. In what very well may be the first show of weakness we’ve seen from “The Fiend” since the creation of the gimmick, Wyatt made a quick retreat from the ambush of his adversary despite losing a few dreadlocks to Daniel in the process.

We truly couldn’t have asked for a better show opener than this! The legendary status of Kane and his undeniable expertise in the Royal Rumble completely overshadows everything else the moment the man makes his presence known, thus creating a series of “oh yeah!” moments. The Funhouse music hits, “oh yeah, Bray and Kane have history!”, Kane sets up the ambush, “oh yeah, Daniel and Kane are former tag partners!”. This was an exquisite example of building towards a future match while referencing a multitude of things that have played a role going into it.

Next up, it’s the ring return of the “Shaman of Sexy” John Morrison. There was absolutely no way I wasn’t going to be covering this moment! John’s re-debut match with Big E soundly showcased the high level of talent that kept Morrison at the top of the independents long after his original departure from WWE. Once again, Morrison was given a spot to demonstrate his penchant for parkour, but it still has yet to feel overemphasized upon, possibly due to the sheer effortlessness John exudes during execution. With the only real distraction from the match being a suddenly blonde Kofi Kingston, this was another great case of old school tag team booking. One-on-one matches between members of the teams involved, plenty of outside interference, all leading to what I expect will be one of the best tag team championship matches we’ve seen in a long time.

Moving on to Monday night’s positives, let’s start off with the United States Championship ladder match. I couldn’t help but remember some of the great ladder matches that have been featured on Raw and Smackdown in the past while watching this bout between Rey Mysterio and Andrade. Coupling the reminisce of matches that included guys like Jeff Hardy, Rob Van Dam, and Eddie Guerrero with the heavy Lucha libre overtone present between Rey and Andrade made this a must-see. In my opinion, this was the perfect example of how to properly book a rubber match. The excellent finale, definitive ending, with the cherry on top being the setup for Andrade and Humberto Carillo’s upcoming feud. Without spoiling too much of this match, I do have to mention that the ending resulted in a friend messaging me the unsettling sentence, “Well, Rey Mysterio is dead.” Definitely check this one out if you missed it!

The next positive for Raw is the singles match between Randy Orton and Drew McIntyre. Tying Orton and McIntyre’s unique “Chosen One vs. Chosen One” rivalry into the build to the Royal Rumble has to be considered one of the best decisions WWE has made recently. Last night’s exhibition match continued building the palpable tension between Randy and Drew and then finished up with a logical “dusty” finish that expertly alluded to the “every man for himself” mentality that comes with the Royal Rumble. The two shining moments to take away from this whole segment have to be the all too stiff looking Claymore delivered to a random timekeeper, and McIntyre’s subsequent promo that made Becky Lynch’s post mist promo look like child’s play. In just a few words, Drew made me believe he could be the one to win this year’s Rumble.

Wrapping up this week’s positives is the most shocking addition we’ve ever had featured as a positive aspect… it’s the mixed tag main event! That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Lana, Rusev, Lashley, and Liv finally found their way onto the good column. As shocking as it may seem, I honestly don’t think you could’ve ended Raw better than this. Although that may speak to the quality of Raw we received last night, or the possibility that I’ve had some sort of mental break, it definitely shows that this entire storyline could’ve been received better if more attention had been focused on ring work. Truthfully, there was nothing to dislike about this match. All four wrestlers involved got adequate time to shine, the heel team won by heel means, and both Liv and Lana got to debut some new gear! Anyone else notice Liv’s subtle nod to Scott Hall? After weeks and weeks of dreading anything involving this storyline, it felt amazing to finally have a decent match to watch instead of more asinine promos.

The Bad

Switching gears to the negative aspects of the week lets start off with Friday’s continuation of the Otis Dozovic and Mandy Rose storyline. Wait…I just realized I’m putting Lana and Lashley over Otis and Mandy…I may consider calling my doctor after this. Psychological breakdowns aside, I have to say that the ballad of lovesick Otis and obviously heel Mandy has an extremely high possibility of getting worse before it gets better. This feels incredibly similar to the Chris Jericho/Trish Stratus “puppy love” angle from the early 2000s but with a bunch of extra, pointless pieces. Why did Sonya want Heavy Machinery ringside if it was just going to end with her losing? Are we not supposed to know that this whole storyline is due to the Kabuki Warriors not defending the tag belts at the Rumble? If we’re being told Otis is the dullard with a big heart, then what the hell was that tongue flicker about after he caught Mandy?! I’ll remain adamant concerning Otis still being over in my mind, but silly angles like this aren’t going to keep him over.

The blue brand’s next negative moment came from two brief instances of Michael Cole and Corey Graves dispensing news about current happenings in the NFL. What the hell was this? I get that Smackdown is on FOX now and they’re a network known for their coverage of American football, but how can this be perceived as anything other than a response to the lawsuit allegations concerning Vince and the resurgence of the XFL? And why is a company owned by the same guy who’s financing the XFL promoting their competition?! I’m not even going into the stigma that exists between the wrestling and football communities. Let’s just say if Reese’s combination of chocolate and peanut butter are two great tastes that taste great together, then this tasted like chocolate and paint thinner.

Finishing off the Smackdown negatives is the main event table match between Roman Reigns and Robert Roode. This entire storyline is quickly becoming the epitome of “played out”. Roman’s recent return from a second bout with leukaemia all but cemented him to near godlike levels throughout the wrestling community, but it’s safe to say that shine has begun to wear off. This current feud has made two points abundantly clear in my mind, it’s time for Roman to hold a championship, and the King of the Ring is still just an excuse to slap a crown and “king” moniker on someone. Even Reigns announcing that his and Corbin’s match at the Rumble will be a Fall’s Count Anywhere match taking place within a baseball stadium wasn’t enough nostalgia fuel to save this garbage fire. Hopefully, the Rumble will see Reigns moving on to better things for the remainder of the year.

Shifting over to the Red Brand’s negatives, first up is the opening promo from the “Monday Night Messiah” and his disciples. This segment was bad from beginning to end and really made Seth’s new stable feel like it’s going nowhere. Which should be almost impossible considering the fact that they just got a new member last week. Rollins entire promo felt like he wasn’t saying anything, with the majority of it being him thanking and oddly hugging Buddy Murphy as the AOP somehow perfectly achieved a look of general displeasure combined with boredom. Then, once the group of Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, and the Viking Raiders stormed the ring, it suddenly became very apparent that this is just two overpowered entities smashing into each other.

Things only got stranger when Rollins response to the babyface ambush was a challenge to the Viking Raiders, a tag team championship match that would feature…Rollins and Murphy as the challengers?! What about the AOP? And then Murphy and Rollins won?! WHAT ABOUT THE AOP?! This is honestly counting as two points in Raw’s negative column because it took place during two separate segments and because it was THAT damn bad!

Finishing off this week’s negatives is the return of the Street Profits parody of Weekend Update. I think I made it fairly clear how awful this spot was the first time it was used, so I’m just going to push one overall point. If Raw and Smackdown are separate brands and ostensibly rival one another, what sense does it make to have a segment highlighting Smackdown on Raw? It wasn’t Raw and Smackdown against NXT at Survivor Series, it was every brand for itself and, for all intents and purposes, still should be. It’s safe to say that the recent surge in “alternative” wrestling content has completely muddled the original concept intended for the draft extension.

The Verdict

In the first of two “go home” versus “business as usual” battles, neither brand seemed to be particularly on the right foot. With both shows earning more negative than positive notes, it truly came down to a matter of which show was less bad overall. And with that mentality in full force, I have to say this week’s winner is…

When it comes down to it, moments like the ladder match, Orton/McIntyre, and Becky Lynch’s match with Kairi Sane made any tiny diamond in the rough that was Smackdown almost meaningless. It’ll be interesting to see if either brand has a major rebound planned for after the Rumble, but the time has come once again for me to bid you fine readers farewell the only way I know how.

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

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