1. SmackDown’s Ailing Squads
On paper, six teams fought on Tuesday’s WWE SmackDown to earn the No. 1 contenders’ spot and secure a title match against Heath Slater and Rhyno. In reality, it was a two-horse race with four cardboard stallions on the track for looks.
The match might as well have skipped to the end where American Alpha clashed with The Usos.
There was no reason to believe in The Ascension, The Hype Bros, The Vaudevillains or Breezango. In terms of momentum, those teams range from barely breathing to comatose.
SmackDown’s tag team division is uneven and predictable right now. It is so lacking in depth that the company temporarily brought in The Headbangers, a midcard act from The Attitude Era and The Spirit Squad, a group of male cheerleaders who didn’t click with the audience when they were around in the late ’00s.
Slater and Rhyno’s unexpected rise in September, the underdog odd couple winning the tag titles, was a smash hit of a story. SmackDown has done little with them since.
The champs have mostly been observers of other teams positioning themselves as contenders. The buzz around them has faded.
But at least they aren’t The Vaudevillains.
WWE has turned the former NXT tag champs into roadkill. Not only do these mustached anachronisms lose often, they look so helpless during these defeats that they come off as minor leaguers lost on the big stage.
American Alpha ousted Simon Gotch and Aiden English so quickly from Tuesday’s match, even The Mulkey Brothers had to wince. They have been irrelevant, WWE making no effort to get them over since drafting them in July.
Philly.com’s Vaughn Johnson is among those wondering what’s going on with this duo:
— Vaughn Johnson (@VaughnMJohnson) November 23, 2016
The Vaudevillains aren’t alone, though. The Ascension have been non-factors on SmackDown. Breezango have morphed into fashion police, but are clearly low priorities. The Hype Bros have the most wins of those squads, but have no rivalries, no narratives to their names.
All these guys are simply out there, warm bodies between the ropes.
The first solution to the division’s woes is to find something for these teams to do, even if it’s as part of a minor subplot.
Abbey Arthur of Top Rope Press wrote, "Give them their own storylines and angles. Their own feuds to work. Just lumping them together week in and week out doesn’t do much for any of them."
Arthur is absolutely right.
Raw isn’t loaded with great teams on the bottom of its tag division, but at least they have direction. The Shining Stars have become shady real estate brokers. R-Truth and Goldust spent months just coming together as a team.
Where are the angles for The Ascension? Where is the character development for The Vaudevillains? Besides hype, what exactly are The Hype Bros?
SmackDown can’t showcase all of its teams at once, but the company has to choose someone from the division’s flotsam and revive them, be it Breezango or The Ascension. WWE has to get behind one of these duos enough to pull them out of the hole they stand in now.
Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt’s apparent interest in joining the tag team fray will be a hell of a boost to the division.
SmackDown doesn’t have a formidable heel team outside of The Usos. Wyatt and Orton can be the predators this ecosystem has been missing.
"Catch your breath … because NEXT WEEK, me and @RandyOrton are coming for you! … RUN!" – @WWEBrayWyatt to #AmericanAlpha #SDLive pic.twitter.com/cQ0q7MiCbm
— WWE (@WWE) November 23, 2016
Suddenly, American Alpha has a set of fearsome rivals to square off against. And Slater and Rhyno have an unsettling challenge on the horizon.
But The Wyatt Family isn’t a cure-all. The rest of the division needs to thrive, as well.
Breezango should commit dastardly deeds to go along with handing out fashion violations. The Hype Bros should start to show cracks in their alliance after falling for a few weeks in a row.
And The Vaudevillains have to do something, anything.
The SmackDown tag team division is an ensemble cast with mostly forgettable faces, protagonists waiting for their stories to unfold. The show has made an unlikely star out of James Ellsworth and paved the way for The Miz’s career year. It’s time to spread that magic to Gotch, English and their peers.
2. Brief Survival
Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar capped off Sunday’s Survivor Series pay-per-view. The headline bout was over before anyone could have predicted, though.
In under two minutes, Goldberg trounced Lesnar.
Some loved the surprise element. Some trashed the fact that all the hype led up to such a quick battle. The one thing fans can all agree on is that the match made history.
At one minute and 25 seconds, it’s the shortest Survivor Series main event by a mile.
Shortest Survivor Series Main Events
Year Match Match Time 2016 Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar 1:25 2015 Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose 9:03 1990 Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and Tito Santana vs. Hercules, Paul Roma, Ted DiBiase, Rick Martel and The Warlord 9:07 2013 Randy Orton vs. Big Show 11:09 2003 Goldberg vs. Triple H 11:44 1997 Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels 12:11 2006 King Booker vs. Batista 13:58
Even the PPV’s most truncated stories lasted far longer. Michaels vs. Hart and Goldberg vs. Triple H were the wrestling equivalents of short stories. Goldberg’s victory over Lesnar was a message on a Post-It note.
3. Throwback Video of the Week: James Ellsworth
Before he was challenging AJ Styles or headlining SmackDown, Ellsworth was Jimmy Dream, a Maryland-based indy wrestler.
In 2011, the small collection of fans watching him take on The Full Blooded Italians couldn’t have any idea what was ahead for him.
Five years ago, Ellsworth was unknown outside of Maryland. He performed in gyms and community centers. WWE must have seemed as far away as the moon.
Ellsworth is now a full-time member of SmackDown who has three wins over the WWE world champ. What a surreal journey.
4. The Mat Game in its Purest Form
NXT remains grounded in the heart of the wrestling art form.
Warriors battle for championships, glory, respect or pride. The brand is built around emotions and straightforward stories inside the squared circle.
It’s not a flavor everyone loves. There are few table crashes, no run-ins, no last-minute switcharoos. Instead, gladiators give everything of themselves in matches that will please wrestling purists.
TakeOver: Toronto was a reminder of that.
The live special didn’t offer the shocking moments Survivor Series did. Rather, it leaned on wins and losses and all the aftereffects of both.
Shinsuke Nakamura falling to Samoa Joe was moving. Asuka fending off a returning Mickie James captivated. And Tommaso Ciampa and Johnny Gargano finally outlasting The Revival to become NXT tag champs was one of 2016’s best moments.
The countdown to the next TakeOver is already underway. And it’s hard to stay patient for it to arrive.
5. A Father First
Randy Orton slipped out of his villain skin for a moment.
Shane McMahon had just taken a nasty midair spear from Roman Reigns at Survivor Series. McMahon’s glazed eyes and stiff body made it clear something was wrong. The referee pulled Shane O’Mac from the bout.
McMahon’s son watched on from the front row.
In a flash, Orton went from predator to nurturer. He went over to McMahon’s kid to comfort him as seen in this screenshot from a fan:
Good Guy Randy Orton
He made sure Shane McMahon’s son was alright after Shane got hurt pic.twitter.com/BQ9ONuPMUX
— WWE Trolls (@WWE_Trolls) November 21, 2016
Orton noted on Twitter (warning: NSFW language), "I’m a father. I know what it’s like to have your kids ringside when s-t goes sideways."
It was a small but powerful act.
And now Orton will have plenty more protecting and consoling to do. He and his wife welcomed a baby girl on Tuesday.
6. Ibushi vs. Nakamura III?
An item on Kota Ibushi’s wish list will make WWE fans grin. The Golden Star desires another crack at former NXT champ Nakamura.
Free agent Ibushi told Proresu Today (h/t Chris Charlton of Japanese Audio Wrestling for the translation), "I want to wrestle Nakamura if possible. He’s likely going to be moving up to the main roster soon, so I want to do it before then."
The first times these two met were absolute classics. Ibushi and Nakamura battled at New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 in 2015 and at the 2013 G1 Climax event in Osaka, Japan. Each bout was near-perfect.
NXT officials should do everything in their power to make sure the third part of that trilogy happens under the WWE umbrella. But Ibushi has made it clear, per Charlton, that he’s not in the business for the money.
If Ibushi won’t sign a WWE deal, at least we may get a one-off appearance for the ages.
7. Living up to Underdog Status
The long shot has to lose before he wins big. The underdog has to first be downtrodden before fans invest in his rise.
Sami Zayn has that part of the equation covered.
He isn’t in jobber territory in terms of wins and losses, but defeats have been commonplace for the former NXT champion.
Zayn’s 2016 PPV winning percentage is just .222. He is 33-24-3 on TV and PPV this year, which isn’t bad, but he’s 0-4 in championship matches on the main roster.
He’s also 1-2-2 in qualifying or No. 1 contender’s contests in 2016 including his work in NXT.
The "he can’t win the big one" narrative is underway for Zayn. That’s fine if it leads to him later gutting out a climb to WWE’s top rungs. The company has a master storyteller in Zayn, a stellar babyface who can enthrall as the next Daniel Bryan.
And Bryan did plenty of losing before he held up the WWE World Championship above his head at WrestleMania XXX.
8. Best Friends Make the Best Enemies
Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens will be one of next year’s top highlights.
Lost tempers and Owens scattering The List of Jericho all over the ring hasn’t led to the brothers-in-arms splitting up yet, but they will. Alliances always implode in WWE. And it will be glorious once it happens with Jeri-KO.
It looked as if the time had come for the best friends on Monday’s Raw as they bickered in the ring. Their intense confrontation ended in an embrace, but it flashed a peek at a potential compelling future.
Their chemistry as allies will be increased as enemies. Their current closeness will only make their breakup that much more powerful.
Owens and Jericho have put the audience in an impossible position. Fans want to see this partnership go on for eternity, for them to bully Tom Phillips and berate the Raw roster for all time. But they also can’t wait to see these men look to eradicate each other.
9. The New Day’s Finest
In honor of The New Day closing in on Demolition’s record as longest-reigning tag champs in WWE history, let’s look back at the trio’s greatest in-ring hits. After checking out these clips and highlights, the full matches are worth seeking out, as well:
The New Day hasn’t had as many great matches as they should have, though.
The group hasn’t had a signature rivalry. The feud with The Club has been hit or miss. Styles and Jericho didn’t stay together long enough to fully engage with The New Day.
As the champs continue their pursuit of history, they are poised to face a number of teams looking to claim their titles. Perhaps another slobberknocker or two is on the way.
10. Owens on Otunga
David Otunga fired off a fat joke during his commentary at Survivor Series. He may already regret it.
His jab at Owens caught the universal champ’s attention. KO charred him with his comeback:
.@DavidOtunga Wow! You found the one person that enjoys your commentary. Let us know when you find one that enjoyed your in-ring work. pic.twitter.com/5ieIcUQjrG
— Kevin Owens (@FightOwensFight) November 22, 2016
Don’t spit in the wind. Don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Don’t come at Owens.
Ryan Dilbert is Bleacher Report’s WWE Lead Writer. Follow him on Twitter @ryandilbert to continue the conversation about all the happenings inside the squared circle.