The Road to Wrestlemania, Episode Six

This is the sixth episode in a series, retelling the Road to Wrestlemania 2016. This episode covers Thursday Night Smackdown, originally televised on February 11, 2016.

The show opens with Chris Jericho preparing for his match with AJ Styles by questioning Styles’ talents, then calling him down to the ring. But before the two can clash, they are interrupted by The Social Outcasts, who insist that both Styles and Jericho leave the ring, as no one is really interested in seeing either of them; it’s all about the Outcasts.

Styles and Jericho’s response is fairly succinct: they attack the Outcasts, driving them from the ring, as a new opening match is created, teaming Styles and Jericho vs Adam Rose and Curtis Axel.

The promo that sets up the tag team match happens just as was televised, because while having Y2J and AJ Styles as a tag team is not the end goal, it provides a platform for them to compete against the same opponents, attempting to show each other up.

Match #1: Chris Jericho and AJ Styles vs The Social Outcasts

Despite the numbers advantage, the tag team match is decidedly one sided, as AJ Styles and Chris Jericho attempt to out do the other with spectacular moves and physical dominance. At the height of the match, Jericho hits the Lionsault, but before he can make the pin, Styles tags himself in, hits a flying elbow drop, and gets the 3 count for the victory.

The Social Outcasts threaten to rush the ring, but eventually think better of it. Jericho, ever the opportunist, positions himself for a Codebreaker, but when Styles turns around, he simply smiles and walks away.

In the televised version, Jericho hit the Codebreaker on Styles. The main reason I removed that is because it undermines Jericho’s victory later in the night. If the goal with the match was for Jericho to be dominant, then hitting Styles post-match here would be fine, as it would just further that perspective. But the idea is to make both wrestlers believe the other got lucky, so having Jericho walk away confident he could have hit it if he wanted to, makes more sense.

Match #2: Naomi vs Sasha Banks

Three episodes away from their clash at Fastlane, Naomi and Sasha Banks face off in a singles match, with their tag team partners Tamina and Becky Lynch patrolling outside the ring. Tamina’s continued interference starts a brawl between her and Lynch, drawing Banks outside the ring. Banks throws Tamina into a chair and follows up with a kick to the face, and while Naomi manages a rollup when she returns to the ring, Banks counters it into the Bank Statement for a submission victory.

While there is no change between this match and the televised one, the important thing to note here is the difference in response and result from both Sasha Banks here, and Becky Lynch in the previous episode. Banks went after Tamina, not to protect Lynch, but to retaliate against Tamina’s interference. That’s why her focus was still in place to avoid the rollup, whereas Lynch cost herself the victory last episode.

Backstage, Kevin Owens is interviewed by Renee Young about his plans to regain the Intercontinental Championship from Dean Ambrose. Owens has a few minutes to mouth off on the state of the WWE and why he should be given the title, when Ryback steps into frame. The Big Guy looks him up and down, and non-plussed, snorts, and walks off.

A precursor for things to come, Owens’ interview backstage gives him an opportunity to talk about a number of other wrestlers (Dean Ambrose, Sami Zayn, AJ Styles), setting up future rivalries and reinforcing current ones. Meanwhile, Ryback’s interruption offers hints of what is around the corner…

Match #3: Kevin Owens vs R-Truth

Spurred on in part by Ryback’s interruption before his match, and The Big Guy’s demolition of R-Truth in Episode Five, Kevin Owens goes out of his way to one up Ryback. Barely letting the bell ring, Owens dominates from start to finish, countering a desperation scissor kick into a Pop-Up Powerbomb for the victory.

Building towards a confrontation between the two powerhouse wrestlers, Owens’s domination in this match is far less about R-Truth, and more about making a statement to ensure that everyone knows he is the top fighter on the roster.

In the backstage area, Jack Swagger is confronted by Zeb Coulter. Coulter, angry at the way Swagger has been failing and ignroing his pledge, demands to know what Swagger thinks he is doing. The All-American American confesses it has nothing to do with the pledge, or the people. He fights, and whether he wins or loses, nothing changes. He needs to find an answer, but he doesn’t know where to look.

He walks off, leaving Coulter shaking his head in disappointment.

The important part of this promo is making it clear that this change in Swagger’s behaviour is not about a swing against America, or his historical “All-American American” persona. It’s a response to the fact that in recent years his matches have been largely meaningless, and he is looking for meaning in that, and for answers…

Match #4: AJ Styles vs Chris Jericho

Chris Jericho and AJ Styles go to war in their rematch, reaching deep into their bags of tricks to find an opening in the other’s defence. But when Styles goes for a springboard attack, Jericho trips him up, leaving Styles to crash on the mat; easy pickings for a Codebreaker and the victory.

Nothing needs to change from the televised version of this match, because it perfectly encapsulates the progression of the rivalry. Rather than dominating Styles, Jericho’s veteran instincts allow him to react to an opening. That sets up Jericho’s feelings that Styles got lucky the first time, and Styles’ feelings that Jericho got lucky the second time, which presents the argument for a decider.

Summary

With only two episodes left before the first pay-per-view, the match card is starting to take shape, as rivalries come to a head. Jericho hands Styles his first singles loss in WWE, while Swagger’s crisis of confidence continues…

In the next episode, Dean Ambrose will find himself fighting for his title and his spot in the #1 Contenders Match…

Let me know what you think in the comments down below.

Episode Card
Original Schedule Revised Schedule
Y2AJ Promo Y2AJ Promo
Chris Jericho and AJ Styles def. The Social Outcasts Chris Jericho and AJ Styles def. The Social Outcasts
The Dudley Boyz Promo Sasha Banks def. Naomi
Sasha Banks def. Naomi Kevin Owens Promo
The Wyatt Family Promo Kevin Owens def. R-Truth
The Lucha Dragons and Neville def. Stardust and The Ascension Jack Swagger Promo
Chris Jericho def. AJ Styles Chris Jericho def. AJ Styles