WWE Thursday Night Smackdown (January 14) Review

Spoilers are the enemy.

That is and always will be my stance on the issue. Of course I understand the fascination with spoilers – especially as it pertains to an industry as enigmatic as pro wrestling – but I firmly believe the less I know about what is going to take place in the ring, the better the overall experience will be. As a critic, providing unbiased analysis without a healthy dose of cynicism is difficult enough without forming an early opinion based on prior knowledge. As a fan, my entire viewing experience is based on the emotions performers are able to extract from me based on the story they’re trying to tell. Spoilers, by very definition, spoil that emotional reaction.

As someone who consumes no less than a dozen pro wrestling podcasts and an ever-growing list of online content over the course of any given week, I am hyper-vigilant about avoiding spoilers. That said, worrying about avoiding Smackdown spoilers is not something I have historically spent much time doing.

The podcasts I listen to rarely discuss Smackdown content prior to its airing (or hardly at all for that matter) and when they do it’s normally nothing worth spoiling in the first place. Complete run downs of the show are available on most websites every Wednesday morning like clockwork. And yet the temptation to left-click has never been there.

Boy did all that change this week.

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As I sat down to watch last night’s episode of Smackdown I already knew Dean Ambrose was going to challenge Kevin Owens to a Last Man Standing Match at Royal Rumble. I already knew the Social Outcasts were going to win an eight-man tag match. I already knew Alberto Del Rio was going to recapture the U.S. title he just lost to Kalisto Monday night on Raw.

The unusual amount of Smackdown chatter this week was not something I was prepared to face. Like Del Rio on Raw, my guard was down and I was taken by surprise. As R-Truth would say, that one’s on me. Needless to say I was less than enthusiastic about tuning in this week with so little left to be discovered. Shockingly, however, that lack of enthusiasm was corrected approximately 30 seconds into this week’s episode and never returned.

From the moment Ambrose first arrived at the arena in a speeding rental car, to the moment he stepped into the ring to make his challenge to Owens official, to the moment he and Neville closed the show by standing victorious in the center of the ring, having defeated Owens and Sheamus in a tag match, everything I watched felt important. Everything I watched felt organic. A sense of unpredictability resonated throughout the entire show; ironic considering it was taped the day after a live show that utterly failed to elicit the same emotional response on every measurable level imaginable.

Aside from the aforementioned results, The Dudley Boys defeated Rowan and Harper in a tables match (before the Wyatts got their heat back in a post-match brawl) and Becky Lynch defeated Brie Bella after challenging Charlotte to title match at the Rumble (whether or not Charlotte accepts this challenge remains to be seen).

All in all, Smackdown featured a total of five matches this week. The reason these five matches took place was never in question.

The Dudleys had unfinished business with the Wyatts after having their hats handed to them on multiple occasions over the course of the last month. The Social Outcast were determined to make their presence felt on WWE programming. Del Rio chose to exercise his rematch clause after losing the title Monday night. Lynch wanted to prove herself as the undisputed number one contender for Charlotte’s Diva’s Championship. Both Ambrose and Neville have been the victims of cowardly attacks executed by Owns and Sheamus.

All five matches progressed the stories around the characters involved.

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Though the Wyatts lost the match, they ultimately ruled the day and left the Dudleys beaten down yet again. Has the most decorated tag team in WWE history finally met their match or will they bounce back in some fashion next week? The Wyatts, on the other hand, continue to build momentum. The Outcasts appeared to win in spite of themselves in the new group’s first official match together. Will the fact that they actually won improve their status within the company? Del Rio channeled his inner-heel and vindicated himself by regaining the U.S. title and Kalisto was left to pick up the pieces after his short-lived title reign. Lynch successfully displayed why she should receive another crack at the Diva’s title. Neville and Ambrose proved they are capable of standing up to WWE’s two resident bullies.

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Four of the five matches had clean finishes.

Ambrose and Neville won via disqualification but the circumstances of the story dictated a finish of that nature and took nothing away from the greater narrative being told. And so all five matches had finishes that made sense.

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When was the last time such statements could be said of an entire episode of Raw?

The buzz around Smackdown this week was undeniable and after watching the show I now understand why. It’s still far too early to make a proper judgment as to whether the creative direction of Smackdown is in the midst of a major philosophical shift or just a honeymoon period with USA. That important determination aside, last night’s episode told me more about the collective characters I see every week than the any number of previous episodes of Raw. In just three days these characters morphed from bland archetypes into vibrant, living, breathing people worthy of an emotional investment from the audience.

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Spoilers are, indeed, the enemy. Now that my guard is up where it belongs I will diligently avoid any Smackdown spoilers that may arise next week. But while spoilers are definitely a bad thing, being spoiler-worthy is most definitely a good thing- a great thing even. It means the show contains something of value the masses can’t wait to consume. When was the last time Smackdown fell into that category?

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