In the WWE, power makes McMahons do bad things, and Shane is no exception.
The WWE has got a lot of mileage out of the McMahon family as the onscreen bosses. Vince—Mr. McMahon in the ring—as Stone Cold Steve Austin’s greatest enemy, and Stephanie McMahon with husband/WWE C.O.O. Triple H manipulated Raw to stack the deck against Daniel Bryan and countless others. Now, Shane McMahon is running the same game, plotting the humiliation, punishment and sacking of Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn on Smackdown Live. The tricky part of that he’s plays a faces, and those are all shitty things to do. At some level it works because wrestling morality is fluid. A heel’s a heel because he uses a folding chair to waffle his opponent. Once the chair has been used though, the face can use it in retaliation and it’s justified.
Still, Shane’s smug satisfaction with his plan at the end of this week’s show hit heel notes, particularly next to Smackdown Live GM Daniel Bryan, who seems like the voice of reason. He’s trying to keep the show strong, so he doesn’t want to see two stars as valuable Owens and Zayn get sacked out by an owner’s son’s fit of pique.
Hopefully, this signals the start of a heel turn on McMahon’s part. The rationale for his anger toward Owens and Zayn is that they cost Smackdown Live the men’s Survivor Series match when they attacked him, but he was already the last man standing against the remaining Raw team members Triple H, Kurt Angle and Braun Strowman. McMahon wasn’t going to win against any one of those three, much less all three, regardless of what Owens and Zayn did. I’ve got a feeling I’m not supposed to think about the situation that way, and that the WWE would like me to think their actions justify McMahon’s vengeance. Bosses are bosses though, and vengeance from screwed-over peers plays differently than vengeance from screwed-over bosses. Had this current storyline emerged from Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura, the anger would feel more earned. Instead, they come into the feud to do McMahon’s dirty work for him, which once again feels heel-ish.
To be fair, I might not be the best audience for this storyline because even in the days of Mr. McMahon, I always found the premise of the evil boss character weak because the stories all seemed too Wyle E. Coyote. He planned overly complicated death traps for the ungrateful wrestlers who refused to toady for him, and almost every week they escaped his wrath. If there was any reality to the premise, McMahon could simply fire the offending wrestler the next day. He wouldn’t have to wait a week to put him in yet another improbable do-or-die situation.
Knowing that Shane could be done with Owens and Zayn tomorrow makes his ongoing feud makes his ongoing actions feel like mean and petty. He’s choosing to stay in the fight instead of being done with it. The longer the feud goes on, the more it sounds like Owens may have been on to something when he accused McMahon of being a spotlight hog who is out to get him months earlier.
This week, Owens will face Nakamura with Zayn in Owens' corner and Orton in Nakamura's.
In other notes:
- Speaking of confused morality and motivations, I have no idea what happened at the end of the Roman Reigns/Jason Jordan match on Raw. Reigns beat Jordan, was attacked by Samoa Joe, and for no reason I understand, Jordan saved Reigns. Then Reigns attacked Jordan with a Superman punch that seemed equally unmotivated. Wrestling writer Dave Meltzer suggested that it was all an elaborate effort to get the crowd to pop for Reigns, and that wouldn’t happen if Reigns beat down the Southern Californian Joe in front of the night’s Los Angeles audience. If that’s actually what happened, bookers subbed that meta-logic for narrative logic, and if that’s the case, it didn’t work. The audience in the building seemed as confused as many of us at home (assuming I’m not alone).
- Finn Balor and Nia Jax are in Storyline Siberia, and it’s hard to watch these talents underused like this. Balor inexplicably wrestled Miztourage member Bo Dallas this week, and Nia Jax finally turned up in a comic angle throwing Enzo Amore a flirty “How you doin?” at the end of one of his segments. It was hard to read Enzo’s look afterwards: Was he intrigued because she’s beautiful, or was he weirded out because she’s big? Since it’s supposed to be comedy, I fear the latter almost as much as I fear for Jax drifting into Enzo’s 205 Live orbit. Since she’ll be the only woman in that circle, Jax will almost certainly take on novelty or sideshow status.
- Asuka wasn’t treated that badly this week, but the WWE seems determined to diminish the air of awesomeness she built in NXT. She destroyed her opponents in the Women’s Survivor Series match, but most of her singles matches on Raw have torn that down as she sells for lesser lights. This week, she put over Alicia Fox as if the outcome was seriously in doubt, which makes Asuka seem more ordinary. Clearly, something will happen between her, Paige and Absolution (still a terrible name), but instead of looking forward to the day when Asuka kicks their asses, we’re wondering what will happen when the finally meet.
- Last week, I wrote about how tone-deaf I find “Woken” Matt Hardy, but the promo video that cut between him and Bray Wyatt had the kind of wild liveliness that kept those who had seen the persona hopeful that it would make it to the WWE. Hardy reveled in his high grade, fever dream nuttiness, and after each mad assertion, Wyatt would counter him. By the end, the video suggests that somehow they’re two sides of the same coin as their laughs seem to line up and echo each other.
The bit clearly started a program between Hardy and Wyatt, which took the edge off of the segment. Seth Rollins and Finn Balor got stuck in flat feuds with Wyatt, which doesn’t bode well for Hardy. The video inadvertently diminished Wyatt because side by side, his mumbo jumbo madness was so much less interesting than Hardy’s triumphant stream of consciousness ramble.
- Can producers on Smackdown Live let the Riott Squad talk less until they’re over more? The dreadfully named Absolution is far more effect on Raw because it has one good talker in Paige, and she does the talking. This week, Ruby Riott had to say, “Riott Squad shifts the tectonic plates of Smackdown Live”—a thing no human being would say, even if she were crazy enough to think like that. Riott isn’t good enough on the mic to make a line like that fly, nor was Sara Logan when she had to say some cliché about Kentucky and hunting. If the WWE wants them to get over, let them shut up and beat people down.
Much of the sad dialogue came during a backstage confrontation between the Riott Squad and Carmella, Lana and Tamina. Rather than lay into them, Riott Squad talked. Then, rather than send them to the ring to fight and make this confrontation go somewhere, Daniel Bryan announces not that they’ll fight later that night or at the upcoming “Clash of Champions” pay-per-view. Instead, he declared that they’ll be lumberjacks in the title rematch between Charlotte Flair and Natalya. The backstage set-to set up an occasion for all six women to stand around the ring and glower at each other. Of course they’ll end up fighting each other, and later in the show, the Riott Squad came to ringside and wrecked almost everybody involved in the Flair/Tamina match, including Carmella and Natalya, who were at ringside. Flair escaped up the ramp.
- The best laugh of the night came from the Bludgeon Brothers, who are growing on me despite my antipathy for the WWE’s adoration of big men. They still feel like an update of a number of older generic big guy gimmicks, but Harper and Rowan’s over the top physicality carries their appearances. Once again, their tags and efforts to pump each other up were as high impact of some of the shots to their opponents, and the move of the night was Rowan picking up and body slamming Harper on top of their prone opponent in the ring. Best. Move. Ever.