The WWE's Top "Smackdown" Story is Great and a Mess

As Smackdown Live approaches “Fastlane,” its best story is also its dumbest. The ongoing drama between Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan is incomprehensible as they manipulate the careers of A.J. Styles, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. At the same time, Styles, Owens, and Zayn are three of the best performers on Smackdown Live—reliably creative on the mic and in the ring.

The WWE's MMC Makes FB Must-See TV

The WWE Mixed Match Challenge sounds like a gimmicky way for the WWE to get in on a gimmicky platform, Facebook’s new Facebook Live. Instead, it has been a pleasant surprise and a reminder of what the WWE does well. The series is a tournament of male-female tag team matches, each wrestling for a charity, and while such tag matches are often frustrating because they present non-committal wrestling, here they succeed because they’re all about personas.

A.J. Styles Wins 2017

[Updated] The winner of 2017 was A.J. Styles. He consistently gave good matches and put his opponents over. He gave Jinder Mahal his best televised match of the year and made him compelling—something few other wrestlers did. He started the year as a heel and was a convincing heel, but once he turned face, he was a clear, convincing face. He took shortcuts when he was a bad guy and stayed on the straight and narrow as a face.

WWE's Clash of Champions Blurs the Line Between Heels and Faces

This weekend’s “Clash of Champions” pay-per-view highlighted the fluidity of face/heel designations in the WWE this year. The A.J. Styles/Jinder Mahal match was one of the strongest because the face/heel roles were clearest, while the Shane McMahon/Daniel Bryan match that took place while Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura battled Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn was the hardest to parse because the roles are so unstable. Owens and Zayn are heels, but good guy GM and referee McMahon was clearly, obviously screwing them.

Is Shane Turning Heel? No, He's Just the Boss

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.

Wrestlers Now Need to Run Lines as Well as Ropes

[Updated] Two weeks ago, the WWE introduced the same angle on Raw and Smackdown Live. New three-woman squads joined the shows’ rosters and established themselves as disruptive forces. The sequences rocked in the way that new arrivals do, but this week started the hard business—making them parts of their shows. In each case, the results were mixed.

The WWE Changes its Mind on A.J. Styles

Last week on Smackdown Live, Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers beat down A.J. Styles. Afterwards, Shane McMahon announced not that Styles would face not Mahal for his WWE Smackdown Championship but Rusev for a spot on the Survivor Series team this week. Days later, the WWE changed its mind and announced that Styles would face Mahal this Tuesday for his championship belt. If Styles wins, he would represent Smackdown Live and face Brock Lesnar at the Survivor Series pay-per-view.

The Beat Downs Go On Forever

A basic rule in the WWE playbook is that if you want to build heat on a character or in a feud, go for a beat down. Time and again, heels have taken the last 10 minutes of Raw to waffle someone with a folding chair again and again, usually in a two- or three-on-one situation, just to amplify the cruel unfairness. A week ago, The Miz and the Miztourage pounded on Roman Reigns well after he’d stopped moving, going so far as starting to leave the ring and come back down the ramp to beat on Reigns’ prone body some more.

Roman Reigns Shows His Softer Side

This year’s number one project in the WWE is clearly building Roman Reigns. He’s big, agile, and charismatic, and perhaps because he was picked for big things years ago, fans have been slow to truly embrace him. At the recent “No Mercy” pay-per-view, he completed a brief program with John Cena designed to give Cena a chance to tell the fans that Reigns has earned his respect.

Did Jinder Mahal, WWE Go "Too Far"?

The WWE’s efforts to build Jinder Mahal look remarkably like flying a plane into the side of a mountain. I keep waiting for the company to treat its champion like a champion, but the top story on Smackdown Live is Kevin Owens versus Shane McMahon, where no titles are on the line. Mahal currently holds the most prestigious belt on the show, but he remains mired in angles that are unconvincing if not demeaning. Tuesday, he cut a promo on Shinsuke Nakamura that was too complicated as well as racially problematic.

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