Welcome to the latest edition of WWE SmackDown Live, the Survivor Series go-home show!
If you missed last week’s show, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens hung New Day out to dry because they were cranky. Becky Lynch beat James Ellsworth, and Ellsworth caught a kick from Carmella after the match that may or may not have been foreplay. Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable beat the Usos via count out, leading to Jimmy and Jey holding onto the tag titles, and Jey working a whole bunch of people into thinking he suffered a legitimate knee injury. Randy Orton beat Rusev again, the Bludgeon Brothers smashed cameras in the woods again, and A.J. By God Styles became the WWE Champion.
Even if you did watch last week, you would have had to wait until Wednesday to find out that John Cena was named as the fifth and final member of SmackDown’s Survivor Series team. In addition – as alluded to a moment ago – we found out that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were sent home from the European tour after failing to follow direction and leaving the ring instead of taking a planned post-match beating from The New Day.
There’s a lot of speculation about why Owens and Sami were upset, ranging from things like the firing of Jimmy Jacobs and the departure of Neville, to lack of Survivor Series plans and overall creative direction (including the decision to have the white-hot Zayn lose to Kingston in the first place). Normally I’d be getting in on this, because speculating about wrestling is arguably at least half the fun of it. But the fact of the matter is it could be a million different things, or maybe a combination of several. The question I find myself asking is: what the hell is going on in that locker room?
Backstage turmoil has seemingly been running rampant as of late. When you go down the list, it’s pretty staggering. You have the sudden departure of Neville, the aforementioned Jacobs firing, Nia Jax’s abrupt decision to take a vacation, the releases of Darren Young, Summer Rae, and Emma, Enzo Amore simultaneously revitalizing 205 Live and carrying a boatload of backstage heat, and now Owens and Zayn facing disciplinary action, as well as allegedly being unhappy and difficult to work recently.
You can even throw in some fringe items that there have been rumors about, such as whether or not the decision to have A.J. Styles replace Jinder Mahal in the Survivor Series match was planned or forced, whether Cena’s inclusion in the match was always in the cards or a move made out of desperation, and after Monday night, how the decision to have Triple H take Jason Jordan’s spot came to be. Am I forgetting anything? Probably.
Backstage turmoil is nothing new in wrestling, but lately, it seems like WWE hasn’t even had a chance to catch their breathe before the next incident takes place. Another thing to keep in mind is that these are only the things that we’ve heard about. How many more performers are unhappy backstage? How many others – like Neville – have seen the success that Cody Rhodes has had outside of WWE, and find themselves wondering if the grass is greener elsewhere?
People always suggest that the Attitude Era was the peak of professional wrestling, and a key point that’s always provided as a explanation of sorts, is the fact that the existence of WCW and ECW forced all three companies to put out quality programming week after week. The other factor there, is that these companies had major incentives to keep their performers happy as well, because failing to do so could result to them jumping to another promotion. While I’m not suggesting that’s where we are now, I will say that based on what we’ve seen, and the success that promotions like Ring of Honor and others have had, the idea that WWE is the premier place to be may be coming to an end.
A more relaxed atmosphere, more fun, more creative freedom when it comes to things like marketing and merchandise, less corporate bullshit to deal with, and a more relaxed schedule is what these indie promotions are offering. And you have to wonder how many guys and girls in the current WWE locker room (especially ones that feel like they’re being underutilized) find themselves weighing their options at this point. WWE might not yet be in direct competition with places like Ring of Honor and New Japan, but when it comes to keeping their roster content, their greatest threat may be themselves.
This bring us to Tuesday night, where we had several matches already booked coming in, and a bearded friend to welcome back. Charlotte would get a Women’s Championship shot against Natalya, and Baron Corbin would defend his U.S. Title against Sin Cara, with both matches also determining who would be heading to Survivor Series to participate in the “Champion vs. Champion” showdowns. Plus, Owens and Zayn take on The New Day, and the return of Commissioner Daniel Bryan.
Would we see any more last minute title changes? Who will gain momentum heading into Survivor Series? Have the Bludgeon Brothers been able to find their way out of the woods yet? Read on to find out!