WWE just finished another adventure to Saudi Arabia and the trip was filled with several big moments. Lacey Evans and Natalya squared off for the first Women’s Division match in the history of the Saudi pay-per-views. ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt destroyed Seth Rollins and took the WWE Universal Championship. Tyson Fury punched Braun Strowman in the face. But most notable was several of the superstars being left, stranded without means of travel home.
The side effect of these travel problems was one of the best episodes of SmackDown in a long time.
With much of their talent stuck in Saudi Arabia, SmackDown had a lot of gaps to fill at the last minute. Enter the superstars of NXT. With Survivor Series on the horizon and the NXT talent being in the mix for the first time, this presented an opportunity to bring the players involved to the table. Several of NXT’s best and brightest appeared on the show, some involved in matches and others involved in backstage segments. The end result was the best episode of SmackDown since being moved to Fox, if not all of 2019.
Rhea Ripley and Teagan Nox defeated Fire & Desire after Bianca Belair single-handedly destroyed their original opponents in the back, Keith Lee and Matt Riddle made sure Sami Zayn had a really bad night and Tommaso Ciampa took some time off from chasing Goldie to lay a beating on The Miz. The main event of the evening was Daniel Bryan facing off against Adam Cole for the NXT Championship in an epic match that was a true treat for WWE fans.
The entire show was reminiscent of the AJ Styles vs. Finn Balor match from TLC 2017. What was originally supposed to be Sister Abigail taking on ‘The Demon’ Finn Balor, the match had to be changed at the last minute after Bray fell ill. The impromptu match between Styles and Balor was a thriller right out of the gate, easily becoming the best match WWE put on that year. There was no build up, no questionable storyline, just two incredible wrestlers leaving it all in the ring.
What happened on Friday night was equally impromptu. No one in the audience expected Shayna Baszler to come tearing out and lay a beating on Bayley, Sasha Banks and Nikki Cross after the end of a title match. It’s a rarity for wrestling to catch fans off guard, and the WWE achieved that without any social media spoilers for once.
For anyone who watches wrestling, particularly WWE, it’s hard to expect the unexpected since WWE creative can be quite predictable. Once Brock Lesnar versus Kofi Kingston was booked, fans knew what was coming, even if they hoped it wouldn’t. When the predictable doesn’t happen, you usually end up in Hell in a Cell situation and that wasn’t a good surprise. No one saw the results of SmackDown coming this week, which was straight up refreshing.
Unfortunately, the quality of the show is being overshadowed by other shenanigans.
Vince McMahon has taken a lot of flack for the travel problems. WWE’s official statement was that the plane out of Saudi Arabia had mechanical issues, but there has been speculation that the problem was more about a money feud between Vince and the Saudis. Only a few higher ups, including Vince, left on time on private jets, meaning the rest of the roster were somewhat stranded.
While the Saudi Arabian travel issues may have created some backstage problems for Vince, they certainly worked out well for fans. What the WWE does next should be interesting to say the least. NXT dominated the matches on SmackDown, putting them in the driver’s seat heading into the next phase of the buildup process. The next few episodes of Raw, SmackDown and NXT could look very different if any NXT superstar could leave their first mark on the main roster.
When the previous system was in place, prior to NXT being considered a ‘third brand’ rather than glorified developmental, NXT callups were met with a mixed bag of reactions. For every one of them that were met with ovations, three fell flat on their face, often due to bad booking. But SmackDown was a different story. It was great to see all the NXT talent get big reactions from the live crowd. It’s a sign that NXT is growing as a brand and gaining attention from its move to USA. Casual WWE fans who don’t have the Network are finally getting the chance to clue into NXT. SmackDown was an opportunity to show fans that NXT talent is on par with any other WWE show.
If nothing else, moments like SmackDown and the Styles/Balor match are a reminder that wrestling is often at its best when it takes a chance and does something off story. Giving fans more matches like what they got on SmackDown would go a long way to renewing interest in WWE as a whole.
If nothing else, fans might finally get some interesting matchups they’ve always wanted to see. Johnny Gargano versus Shawn Michaels, anyone?
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