The Road to Wrestlemania, Episode Two

This is the second episode in a series, retelling the Road to Wrestlemania 2016. This episode covers Thursday Night Smackdown, on the 28th of January 2016.

Opening the 28th January 2016 episode of Thursday Night Smackdown, The New Day emerge, hoping to save us all from the misguided thoughts of wrestlers like The Rock, who mocked them on Monday Night Raw, and the crowd for listening to an outdated movie star. They are soon joined by Stardust, another victim of The Rock’s jibes, who questions his lineage and quality. This is too much for The Usos, who run to the ring to put a stop to the promo. The numbers appear too much, as they are initially overwhelmed. However, the arrival of Stardust’s rival Neville, and local hero Titus O’Neil, even the odds, and The New Day and Stardust are chased from the ring, and an Eight Man Tag Team Match is scheduled.

The opening is fairly similar to the televised opening, with a couple of key differences. Firstly, Neville and Stardust have replaced Dolph Ziggler and The Miz in this match. Ziggler is on a break, after the fight with Kevin Owens on Monday Night Raw, and Miz is finding himself involved in other storylines; having him in this match serves limited purpose. Beyond that, the main changes are in what The New Day and Stardust are upset about, as it was the Wyatt Family, not The New Day, who confronted The Rock in Episode One.

Match #1: The New Day and Stardust vs The Usos, Neville, and Titus O’Neil

The Eight Man Tag Team Match is a back and forth affair, as the Usos attempt to get their hands on The New Day, while Neville is focused on Stardust. As the match reaches its pinnacle, The Usos and Neville clear most of their opponents from the ring, leaving Xavier Woods to bear the brunt of Titus O’Neil’s finishing move. After the match, Titus O’Neil and the rest of the team climb into the crowd to celebrate.

While this match is not particularly sound from a storyline perspective (there is little reason for Titus to run down, and Neville has a match later in the night to consider), the characters, promo, and match make sense when taking into account Titus O’Neil gifted a large number of tickets to kids from local schools that week. The New Day and Stardust play well as villains amongst the kids, and The Usos and Neville are high flyers who will impress and excite, most of whom want to cheer on Titus O’Neil. So while in other circumstances I might have dropped the match, this one just felt right to leave it as is.

Match #2: Jack Swagger vs The Miz

Jack Swagger’s entrance music hits, and he comes out on stage, standing at the top of the ramp, surveying the ring. He puts his hand on his heart, and shouts “We The” and hesitates, looks down; uncertain. Takes a deep breath, looks up, and shouts “People!”, though he seems less sure of himself for a few moments. He shakes it off and heads to the ring for his match against The Miz.

The Miz dominates the match from start to finish, capitalizing on Swagger’s uncertainty. However, Swagger is able to power out of an attempted submission, and knocks Miz to the ground with a running clothesline. He goes for the Patriot Lock, but hestitates again. Instead, as if uncertain about his finisher, he hits another running clothesline for the victory.

After the match, he climbs onto the turnbuckle and places his hand on his chest, then pauses, shakes his head as if conflicted, and instead raises both fists in the air, exiting the ring shortly afterwards.

This is the beginning of a brand new storyline, aimed at providing Jack Swagger with a platform from which to step out of the collective of midcard wrestlers who currently continue on showing up, but rarely feel as if their matches really have an impact on their future storylines.

After the break, Chris Jericho hosts two of the three competitors in the #1 Contender Match at Fastlane on The Highlight Reel. Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns bring gifts for Jericho, a potted plant and a stool, to add a little decor to the set. Both are relaxed and enjoying the banter, making it clear that regardless of their friendship, they were quite comfortable (as they’d shown in the past) to fight each other inside the ring, and that it wouldn’t change anything outside of it.

The mention of the Beast Brock Lesnar though turns the discussion cold though. While Roman Reigns continues his mantra that he can and will defeat Lesnar, Ambrose becomes noticeably quiet, as if he is itching to prove something…

Match #3: AJ Styles vs Curtis Axel

Curtis Axel comes to Smackdown looking for a fight with the man that eliminated him from the Royal Rumble five days previous: AJ Styles. The Phenomenal One will not be denied though, continuing his stellar WWE debut week with a dominant victory over the Social Outcast, despite interference from Heath Slater, Adam Rose, and Bo Dallas. A flying forearm knocks the Outcasts to the floor, and AJ seals the match by countering Axel’s finisher with the Styles Clash.

Very little changes about this match. This was a solid introduction to Smackdown for Styles, and while the match wasn’t completely technically sound, having Styles overcome three interferring teammates on his way to a victory sets him up further for stories down the line.

Match #4: Charlotte vs Natalya

At the height of this non-title match between Charlotte and Natalya, Ric Flair distracts Natalya, providing Charlotte an opportunity to recover and attack her opponent, locking in the Figure-Eight Leg Lock for the victory. A post match attack from Charlotte leaves Natalya in pain in the centre of the ring, stopped only by the arrival of Becky Lynch, who chases off both Charlotte and her father.

Once again, this match occurs exactly as televised. Ric Flair continues to interfere in Charlotte’s matches to ensure her victory, strengthening Charlotte’s Heel run as champion, and positioning Becky Lynch as the protagonist against her. The match also welcomes back Natalya, without making her look weak going forward.

Match #5: Kalisto vs Neville (United States Championship)

The main event for the evening is Kalisto’s first championship defense, against the man that gravity forgot, Neville. The high flying match reaches its peak as Kalisto knocks Neville from his feet, leaving him perched precariously on the turnbuckle. A modified Salida Del Sol later, and Kalisto retains his championship.

After the match, Neville is ambushed by Stardust at the top of the ramp, and the episode ends with Stardust standing over him, gloating.

This match largely remains the same as it was televised, with perhaps a few tweaks to shift it from an undercard match to something worthy of the main event of the evening. The main change is the post match attack from Stardust, as it provides the potential for future rivalry work, and gives Neville a chance for a short break, while not requiring it (opens up schedule options).

Summary

The removal of the Wyatt family, the first thread of a new storyline, and some tweaks to matches are the only changes here. Over saturation is a real concern, and the need to give wrestlers breaks to enhance the stories that they are telling is crucial heading towards Fastlane.

The story continues in Episode Three, where we return to Monday Night Raw, and see the first major change to the Fastlane card take place…

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

Episode Card
Original Schedule Revised Schedule
The New Day Promo The New Day Promo
The Usos, Dolph Ziggler & Titus O’Neil def. The New Day & The Miz The New Day and Stardust vs The Usos, Neville, and Titus O’Neil
Kalisto def. Neville (US Championship) Jack Swagger def. The Miz
The Highlight Reel The Highlight Reel
AJ Styles def. Curtis Axel AJ Styles def. Curtis Axel
Charlotte def. Natalya Charlotte def. Natalya
Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & Chris Jericho def. Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper & Erick Rowan by Disqualification Kalisto def. Neville (US Championship)