After a busy weekend, Monday was (again) the first chance to watch SmackDown.
It was well worth the wait.
This probably has been the case for a while, and I know it is for stretches here and there, but SmackDown is a great professional wrestling show. The Valentine’s Day edition was a refreshing (and much-needed) reminder of why I enjoy the “sport”, and why I’ll probably ever only have one foot out the door.
The opening six-man tag of Daniel Bryan, Christian and Sheamus vs. The Shield was formulaic, but effective. There were hot tags to all three faces to give them some shine, along with plenty of time for the heels to work over the good guys. The match always seemed active … even when Roman Reigns threw a rest hold on Sheamus, there was a purpose of the latter trying to power out and get to his corner. In the end, there was chaos on the floor, and miscommunication among faces (Sheamus Brogue-kicking Christian) to set up the heel victory. All six men looked good, and nobody was weakened by the result. The KISS method of wrestling booking.
Before the main event, the four-way No. 1 contender match for the Intercontinental Championship could’ve stolen the show. There was great ring psychology between Kofi Kingston and Rey Mysterio — team up to neutralize common enemy, then immediately go head-to-head. Kofi was Kofi, hitting his finisher on almost everyone. Rey was entertaining for once. Mark Henry did the typical solid big-man things with his limited exposure; he unfortunately just can’t move like he used to. But Jack Swagger (yes, Jack Swagger) won the match and looked the best doing it. He expertly executed a simultaneous release German suplex of Kofi and Rey. When Kofi tried to flip his way back into the ring from the apron, Swagger was there with the Patriot Lock. Then, when Kofi countered and attempted the Trouble in Paradise trifecta, Swagger countered straight back into the ankle lock for the win. Anything that provides Kurt Angle flashbacks is a good thing. At his best, Swagger could probably only be Kurt Angle Lite, a bad-ass wrestler with less charisma that can be a good hand in the upper-mid card. But there are much worse fates.
The only real non-designed lull seemed to come during the eight-man tag match with Goldust, Cody Rhodes and The Usos vs. Curtis Axel, The Middle Age Outlaws and Ryback. The fact is none of the heels can really go. I damn near fall asleep when Road Dogg is in the ring. Ryback has been sufficiently neutered. Axel and Billy Gunn are OK, but nothing special. There definitely was a come-down segment in the middle of the match until business picked back up at the end. And, my God, are the WWE’s two brother tag teams fun to watch. In the old days, there probably wouldn’t be hesitation to have a faces vs. faces tag team title match. But if The Usos (rightfully) take the belts off the nostalgia act and The Rhodeses were next in line, that could 1) be main-event worthy, 2) be one of the greatest tag-team WRESTLING matches WWE has seen in years.
Two quick come-down matches afterward, though the intensity stayed high after the Damien Sandow-Darren Young match to advance Young’s angle with Titus O’Neil. Fandango vs. The Miz was what it was — let people breathe, grab a beer, go No. 1, etc., before the main event.
And did Cesaro ever deliver.
No Antonio anymore (No Langston for Big E, either), which doesn’t make a lot of sense. But whatever the name, Claudio Castagnoli showed millions of fans what he can do in the ring. He overpowered the WWE World Heavyweight Champion for the match’s majority, using a quick pace, mat wrestling and some high-impact strikes and maneuvers to assert himself. Randy Orton sold beautifully, which always helps as well. Cesaro took Orton on the swing for (unofficially) 16 revolutions. Orton went for a backdrop to counter The Neutralizer, and Cesaro stuck the landing on his feet. He hit a sunset-flip powerbomb to ultimately set up The Neutralizer for a clean pin of the champion.
This was a great 15-minute-or-so TV main event, and it was a great rub for Cesaro. I’m still not a huge fan of the champion losing so often (and so cleanly) leading up to a title defense, but Cesaro may have been the one who needed it most because it’s now established he has a chance to win. It also makes you wonder what Christian’s loss means, if anything.