The mission statement for all of us here at Cultaholic is simple: celebrate all that’s good about professional wrestling and have a bloody good time.
However, as the man who has been tasked with adding balance to our coverage of WWE especially with the WTF Moments series, I can’t help bit see some instances where we need state the obvious and point some fingers: two of those instances arrived on SmackDown Live in recent times.
We all know SmackDown Live to be the better of WWE’s two main roster brands. When you look at the shows aired over the past two-and-a-bit years since the initial brand split, the blue brand’s output has been consistently better than the red’s. This has been especially true when Shane McMahon – the commissioner who looked his Superstars in the eye and said SmackDown Live would be ‘all about them’ after the same old authority-driven storylines dominated Raw for so long – has been missing. It’s a real shame to see him back as he’s just going to take the opportunities that should be afforded to the stars of today, isn’t he? ISN’T HE?!
SmackDown was billed as ‘the land of opportunity’ for a while, and in the cases of James Ellsworth, AJ Styles and his WWE Championship reigns, and a select few others, that has proven to be true. However, just as Shane O’Mac took all opportunity and gave it to himself over a year-and-a-half spell, WWE’s fabled creative teams have squandered a couple more fantastic opportunities involving a few of SmackDown’s top Superstars. AND that’s when Shane wasn’t around – with the commissioner back, the rest of the winter and WrestleMania season is looking bleak AF or whatever the kids say these days to emphasise a point.
The inspiration for this article occurred on this week’s show, where Rusev took on his former love interest Aiden English. This is a feud that was built over a year or more. The pair got together, took over the city of Plovdiv and calendars worldwide, and captured the hearts of an entire universe before the lesser member of the tandem went ‘off’ like a canned chicken and tried to split up a man from his wife.
If we’re looking at story arcs – or whatever the proper movie journalists call them – this is one of the better ones WWE have pulled off over the past couple of years… or so we thought, because on this week’s show, the year long build with the capturing of hearts, the takeovers of Bulgarian cities and calendars, and the heartbreaking break-up all culminated in a squash match. On the weekly show. No real build to the match. No real story in the match. No real amounts of anything – Aiden ran around the ring. Rusev caught him. Rusev applied The Accolade, and that was that.
Everything we’ve been through with The Bulgarian Brute, The Chicago Sinatra, Milwaukee, and Rusev Day as a whole was gone in 60 seconds (ish), as Tom Phillips said immediately after the final bell: “Well, this rivalry does not end the way Aiden English hoped…”
END? END?! WE’RE NOT EVEN HALF WAY THROUGH!!!
Frankly, this was an absolutely disgusting way to end a storyline between two characters on SmackDown Live that large sections of the WWE Universe are actually invested in. Rusev Day is arguably the most ‘over’ act WWE has had at their disposal in 2018 and it all came to an end in an innocuous one minute squash match on a random weekly show.
That’s just not good enough.
WWE had it all in the palm of their hands the way the feud was bubbling along. They had the cliffhanger of what happened on that – as we thought at the time – fateful night in Milwaukee, and they pissed it all away to absolutely nowhere in double-quick time.
The worrying thing for all fans of SmackDown is the fact that the way WWE have seemingly squandered the entire Rusev Day feud – Tom Phillips and I are going to look really silly if it continues on next week’s show, aren’t we? – is following a bit of a trend.
We all remember the Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles feud for the WWE Championship, don’t we? We all remember Samoa Joe going to AJ’s actual house, don’t we? We all remember that particular episode of SmackDown Live going off the air with us fans wondering whether the Samoan Submission Machine had actually managed to get inside to do some presumably unspeakable things to WEEEEEEEEEEENDEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY and little Annie, don’t we?
I bet we also remember tuning into the next week on SmackDown Live where Paige let us know the police were called immediately after SD went off the air, and because of that Joe did nothing more than play a game of ‘knocky nine doors’ – or whatever you may call it in your town.
Again, the way that WWE perfectly set that angle up to take it onto the next level, only to squander it for comparatively nothing is unforgivable.
Both of these cases represent storylines that would have gone to some weird and wonderful places in WWE’s past. Maybe the company’s creative teams are hamstrung by restrictions placed on them by sponsors and the like today, but surely there was more creative ways to get more out of the wonderful positions the writing put them in.
I’m just really angry that both scenarios were wasted like they were, because in this era of ‘oh WWE isn’t as good as it used to be’, SmackDown Live threw away two situations that would have stolen the show in any era if executed correctly.
It’s a good job the heel turn of Dean Ambrose – reportedly fast-tracked due to the heartbreaking Roman Reigns situation – happened when it did, as it proves that WWE still do know how to tell the best story when the opportunity presents itself.