MR. TITO STRIKES BACK – Observations from Attending WWE Smackdown LIVE in Pittsburgh, PA (3/27/2018)

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Welcome back to the one and only Mr. Tito world exclusively here at / So, a few weeks ago, I wrote a column about Wrestlemania and was a bit “gloom & doom” towards the end about the current WWE Creative for the WWE. Additionally, I appeared on The Doc Says… podcast at LoP Radio (which you can check out by clicking here) and I had the same worries about the WWE. Now, I’m not saying that WWE is reading my columns or that we’re being discussed at WWE Creative meetings… But what the hell? Suddenly, many things are falling into place for Wrestlemania 34 and Smackdown has actually been GOOD lately. Imagine that… I know, you’re seeing that last statement and am laughing about that 11% drop in the viewership. What can I say? People LOVE the new “Rosanne” show that drew 18 million viewers. That and one week doesn’t make a trend… Roman and Jinder were allowed lots of slack to be “under” 3 million for RAW and “under” 2.5 million for Smackdown.

Speaking of WWE Smackdown LIVE from this past weekend… I was there!

I actually attended the television event in Pittsburgh, PA. Originally, I had ZERO intentions of attending Smackdown as it is a real hassle for yours truly to attend. I have to drive an hour and a half to get to Pittsburgh, take time away from my family, spend money, and it’s following a long day at work. Plus, I have to get up early the following day… Folks, I’m getting too old for that kind of stuff… Before last Tuesday, I had absolutely ZERO demand to appear at that show despite a friend from work egging me on to go.

But then, Daniel Bryan was cleared to wrestle.

I want to make it very LOUD and CLEAR that I only attended WWE Smackdown Live, which costs me time and money, to see Daniel Bryan. I went from probably watching clips on to determine if I would even care about watching the Hulu version to actually ATTENDING THE SHOW. That is 100% due to Daniel Bryan‘s medical clearance. I would NOT have been there had he been just the boring General Manager character. No offense to the rest of the roster, but WWE’s television shows are like infomercials for the Pay Per Views and I’m not spending time/money unless something significant happened on that show. Daniel Bryan‘s return and then the Zayn/Owens beatdown of him brought me to that show.

And I believe it brought many OTHERS to that show in Pittsburgh, PA as well.

I spoke to many fans on the floor who admitted, just like me, that they had zero interest in attending that show until Bryan came back. Many in attendance still had their older maroon “YES! YES! YES!” shirts on, which were not on sale that night (they had a newer Bryan shirt, gray and blue) and the PPG Paints Arena wasn’t halfway filled like I’ve seen other arenas lately for Smackdown’s show.

That’s what a draw is, folks… A wrestler that we all care about naturally instead of being force fed by announcers, McMahons, and the Creative Team that they are great. If you go watch the creative hurdles that Bryan had in his way during 2013-2015, he did not have WWE Creative on his side and yet he was naturally over. Bryan’s popularity FORCED the WWE to alter its Wrestlemania 30 plans to change the Randy Orton vs. Batista main event to become a Triple Threat. THAT is power, my friends, and then the WWE shoved Kane down our throats as the #1 contender after that show (should have been Randy Orton).

Could you even imagine if Daniel Bryan had the SAME favorable booking as Roman Reigns? Or have announcers fawning over his greatness? Or better yet… Would Roman Reigns survive being repeatedly called a “B+ Player” by Stephanie McMahon with zero retaliation? That’s right, Roman dealt with Stephanie whereas Creative forced Bryan to bend over and take it without any response.

But I want to repeat myself… I was there only because of Daniel Bryan‘s medical clearance and my curiosity to see how he’d land on the Wrestlemania 34 card.

Aside from Daniel Bryan… I had a really good time at WWE Smackdown LIVE.

I’m not fully sure what everyone saw on television, but the live product was very strong. We had a 30 minute opener between Orton/Roode vs. Rusev/Mahal which was excellent and the match of the night. 30 minute TV match! Shelton Benjamin vs. Shinsuke Nakamura as your main event which was solid and the ending between Styles/Nakamura was great. Then, for the Mixed Tag tournament, we had Bobby Roode/Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks/Finn Balor! What a bonus! And it was a great match on top of that. Kurt Angle made an appearance after that match to hype the finals of that tournament. Freakin’ 205 Live delivered one hell of a Fatal 4 Way that had some mindblowing spots that I had never witnessed before. To top all of that off, we had a dark match main event between Usos/AJ Styles vs. Aiden English/Rusev/Baron Corbin which removed all WWE filters and the wrestlers just had a great time in the ring.

Oh, and Daniel Bryan cut one hell of a promo during Smackdown LIVE.

It was a FUN live event experience and in hindsight, I’m glad that I went… I’m tired as hell from over 3.5 hours worth of wrestling in a very crammed seating setting on the floor and from traveling 3 hours to & from Pittsburgh, PA… But I had fun!

Let me just give you a rundown of my thoughts on attending WWE Smackdown LIVE at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, PA on March 27th, 2018:

Attendance was probably just north of 10,000, which is good.
The floor was packed, no doubt about that. Section 100 was filled like a horseshoe all the way around with some open seating on the non-television side (but it wasn’t empty). The very top section, the “nosebleeds”, only was open on the Television side only. That was filled to capacity. Rest of the top section was tarped up to probably disallow seating in 2/3 of the top section. I would say that a solid 12,000 or so attended that event which is fine. Pittsburgh isn’t historically a strong WWE town though it is a big enough city to merit regular WWE events.

Dark Opener was Zack Ryder/Tye Dillinger vs. Mojo Rawley/Mike Kinellis
Good opening tag bout from these guys before the USA Networks cameras started to warm the crowd up. Reasonable face pops for Dillinger with his “10” chants.

Rusev is OVER. No doubt about it!
I saw Rusev appear twice last night, once during the opening Tag Match when he teamed with Jinder Mahal to wrestle Randy Orton/Bobby Roode, and then once again in the dark main event match between AJ Styles/Usos vs. English/Rusev/Baron Corbin. In BOTH instances where he was supposed to play the HEEL, he was the most over of the wrestlers. That includes getting more babyface cheers than Randy Orton and the WWE Champion AJ Styles. Wasn’t even close. During the dark main event, he was even joking that he’d join the babyface team of Usos/Styles because he was getting so many cheers. Lots of Rusev t-shirts in attendance, too.

Rusev & Randy Orton are GREAT in-ring workers.
Stating the obvious, but when you see them up close as I did last night, I was very impressed. Randy Orton’s mechanics have been talked about for years… So crisp in the ring, perfectly executing everything. But then you have a much larger wrestler in Rusev. He was SO GOOD in the ring and was full of energy throughout his matches. His superkicks are deadly and I would have sword that he kicked someone’s head off with those. As thick as Rusev appears on television, there isn’t an ounce of fat on him either… All muscle. It’s no wonder why he is so athletic in that ring as he’s just a freak athletically. Rusev had to wrestle twice last night and was great both times.

Jinder Mahal, no so much of a worker.
Up close, everything looks like it barely hurts his opponents for Jinder Mahal. I’m not sure if he’s just being extra careful with 2 veterans (Roode, Orton) who might retaliate if he went stiff or if that is just him. It looked like he was Karate chopping everyone all night long. Big difference between when Jinder was in the ring and then when Rusev was tagged in. Just seeing his in-ring work in person and up close, it is pretty obvious why 2017 was a rough year for Smackdown.

Becky Lynch is popular and WWE won’t acknowledge it.
I heard nothing but solid babyface pops for BOTH Becky Lynch matches and in fact saw many younger fans with Becky signs to cheer her on as she kinda resembles a real life modern iteration of a Disney princess character (not just pretty but brave & tough). WWE has squandered her and has let her rot on the Smackdown roster since Alexa Bliss left. All because Executive Producer Kevin Dunn reportedly hates her accent? Despite that, she cuts a good promo, looks great, moves incredibly well inside that ring, and has energy that you cannot teach. Yet, she’s going to be stuck in that Fabulous Moolah Women’s Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 34. What a shame… I must be Becky’s good luck charm, as she went 2-0 last night.

Riott Squad… Not so much.
Lots of “who are they” from the Pittsburgh crowd from those around me even though they have been on the WWE roster before. I like Ruby Riott too and thought that they had a good match… However, I think their lack of “heat” may have been because many in the audience was assuming they’d beat Becky? I don’t know… But they fall victim of the insta-push policy of most NXT call-ups these days instead of the established system of the past where you start low on the midcard and work your way up.

HARD SELL for Ronda Rousey.
I counted FOUR highlight videos of Ronda Rousey on the Titantron, 3 of which aired within the first hour and a half of the show. That tells me a few things… (a) WWE is fearful of their investment based on ratings when Rousey appears and (b) WWE is in damage control mode due to Rousey’s recent interviews. She has been a bit salty with sportscasters when asked about her past MMA career. Funniest video was when it aired just before the Becky Lynch vs. Ruby Riott match, as you could tell by body language that they were disgusted. I would be too if you worked hard to build up the Women’s Division only for the WWE to have probably paid $5 million for an outsider to arrive and steal your spotlight. That, and Stephanie McMahon is selling for her when she won’t for the rest of the Women’s Division.

Daniel Bryan is incredibly over! Killer promo!
Daniel Bryan arrived to a monster pop and I got to be a mark to participate in the “YES!” chants. He was very over and things popped more when he started cutting a sharper promo about his return to the ring and about Zayn/Owens.

New Day is very popular… Not so much Bludgeon Brothers.
New Day comes out and everybody is 100% behind their opening promo… Bludgeon Brothers come out, a collective groan occurs with the crowd and everybody sits down immediately. If you heard silence in this match through your television, you were correct. Everybody popped for the Usos running down to save the match because everybody knew it was over and the fans wished for Usos vs. New Day instead. Usos were very popular later when they had a dark match with AJ Styles to verify that.

Tyler Breeze vs. Dolph Ziggler was the piss break match.
Stands emptied during that match, more than other matches. Becky vs. Riott was a piss break, too, which could have affected their heat… But that followed the opening 30 minute tag match. Match wasn’t treated seriously although there was some laughter by the live crowd towards the Fashion Police’s goofy antics. Dolph Ziggler deserves better… Could you imagine his in-ring talent being complemented with a steady WWE Creative push? As I keep saying… “could you imagine if (X wrestler) had Roman Reigns’s push?”

Shelton Benjamin vs. Shinsuke Nakamura was great and had a nice ending for storytelling.
You can just tell that Benjamin wrestled internationally because in the ring, he was able to sell much of Nakamura’s offense. That obviously tells me how Styles vs. Nakamura shall go. I like the storytelling of this match, too, with Nakamura wanting to put Styles in his corner but Styles got involved to take Gable out. That put Styles and Nakamura at odds at the end of the match and then Gable/Benjamin ambushed Styles afterward only for Nakamura to make the save. That perfectly sets up Nakamura/Styles vs. Shelton/Gable. Both Styles and Nakamura had good heat for their entrances and the crowd was good for this match.

What a Mixed Tag Match!
As a bonus, we had Becky Lynch (filling in for Charlotte)/Bobby Roode vs. Finn Balor/Sasha Banks… Both of the RAW folks joining the show were well received as I was amazed at how shredded Sasha Banks looks in person. She looks like a normal female on television but she has a 6 pack worth of abs when seen in person. Match was a great back and forth as both groupings of wrestlers had great chemistry together. You see Lynch and Banks mixing it up and you wonder WHY those two can’t have a feud in the WWE (I know, they are on separate brands). As a bonus, we had an appearance by Kurt Angle to hype the next Mixed Tag match.

Mark Andrews vs. Tony Nese was good… But fans were tired.
Nothing to take away from Andrews or Nese, but fans cleared out after that Mixed Tag Match and those who were staying went off to a piss break (beer sales stopped). But it was a solid match, take nothing away from those guys.

Did not care for the 205 Live video segments.
Boring, boring, boring… Just didn’t care about video interviews that aired between matches. Maybe it looked better on television, but I really didn’t feel any tension during those segments between wrestlers or personalities.

Crazy 205 Fatal Four Way!
The Fatal Four Way main event to 205 Live was crazy and had tons of moves that I never saw before. TJ was locking in variations of submission holds that I had never seen before and they had a very dangerous spot involving a surf board. Total trainwreck of a match that you’d probably expect from a Cruiserweight match. HOWEVER – Match did suffer from a lack of heat, aside from the big spots, because nobody in the crowd knew who any of the wrestlers were. That’s the problem with the Cruiserweight division of the WWE. Complete roster of no-names. WCW had Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, Ultimo Dragon, etc. who were all full of character, personality, or had some backstory to them. Dean Malenko was stone cold but he was marketed as the “man of a 1,000 holds”. Rey Mysterio was sold as a younger wrestler who could do amazing things for his age. Chris Jericho was, well, Chris Jericho!

Dark Main Event was hilarious.
AJ Styles/Usos vs. Rusev/English/Corbin was the main event and they took the WWE filters “off”. They just had fun out there. Rusev acknowledged his babyface pops and wanted to join the babyface team. Then, you had this crazy Superkick segment where the Usos delivered multiple superkicks to the heel team and then Aiden English kept taking them (Corbin & Rusev kept shoving him back into the ring). Then, the referee delivered a Superkick to a huge pop! AJ Styles then tears off the referee’s shirt to become the “ref” and Usos/Ref then delivered more Superkicks to score the triple pin. To Rusev’s credit, he kicked out of his pin which was by the referee (love that).

CONCLUSION: I had fun… It was over 3.5 hours of WWE live action that had a handful of good-to-great matches and I thought from a storytelling standpoint, Wrestlemania 34 is setting up nicely for the Smackdown brand. As I watched Smackdown Live, I came to the realization that Smackdown has a ton of GOOD talent on its roster. It’s a matter of WHO gets the big push and the Jinder Mahal stuff of 2017 held this entire roster down. WWE has to consider their next moves on Rusev, in particular, as the addition of Aiden English to act as his “manager” is actually getting Rusev’s personality over. Rusev Day is on the brink, if the WWE wants it. B+ for the overall show. Midcard could have been better in between as my only negative.


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