This week on SmackDown Live, the battle lines were drawn when Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon issued a challenge to the entire Raw roster for next month’s Survivor Series event in Toronto. Should the flagship show accept the challenge, each brand will enlist its top five male athletes, tag teams and women’s wrestlers respectively, to do battle with the opposition under traditional Survivor Series elimination rules.
It really comes as no surprise that it would be the blue brand to fire the first shots here, because its role as the WWE’s most entertaining show has essentially gone uncontested since the brand extension draft in July. Both brands have had their ups and downs, sure, but more often than not, SmackDown seems to deal with putting on a consistently enthralling show every week far better than its red counterpart.
A lot of that has been as a result of multiple SmackDown championship scenes continuously outdoing that of Raw, through superior storytelling, match quality and overall investment from the fans.
That said, while we are in the midst of a pivotal moment wherein SmackDown desperately needs to sustain its impressive championship pictures ahead of Survivor Series, it seems that things are just now starting to slip away as times could not be any more crucial for the blue brand.
In particular, the WWE World Championship and SmackDown Tag Team Championship pictures took a very strange turn this past Tuesday night, introducing the unlikeliest of names into the fray with regards to the top contenders for each strap. Namely, the apparent introduction of the Spirit Squad and James Ellsworth has put a resounding question mark on the legitimacy of both divisions on the SmackDown roster.
Starting off with the Spirit Squad, the duo of Kenny and Mikey have apparently transcended their initial role as The Miz’s handymen in his feud against Dolph Ziggler, and will apparently be joining the ranks of the SmackDown tag team division for the unforeseeable future. In order to christen their return, Kenny and Mikey came to blows with SmackDown Tag Team Champions, Heath Slater and Rhyno this week when the titleholders came down to the ring to defend the Intercontinental Champion from a two-on-one assault.
As such, it seems very likely that Slater and Rhyno’s next challengers will be the Spirit Squad.
Talk about a travesty. As harsh as it may sound, in today’s WWE, there just isn’t a legitimate spot on the roster that the Spirit Squad can believably fit in. The blue brand has already had an uphill battle in trying to add some depth to its tag team division, and after what seemed like a fruitful effort, the immediate promotion of Kenny and Mikey to a championship-tier rivalry seems like a huge step backwards.
The Spirit Squad is nothing short of a comedy act, and while guys like Heath Slater himself have proven that comedy does, in fact, have a place within the ranks of today’s WWE, there is such a thing as too much.
How they could go from two of the company’s most interesting heels in The Usos to a disappointing follow-up pair of challengers in the Spirit Squad is anyone’s guess, and it just feels like a cheap way to get Slater and Rhyno to increase the length of their reign before Jimmy and Jey inevitably pick up the gold.
Though it’s rarely a bad thing to boost a champion’s credibility, this couldn’t have been timed any worse.
If the Spirit Squad was to head into Survivor Series fighting either for the SmackDown Tag Team Championship titles, or for brand supremacy on behalf of the blue brand, it would only serve to make a mockery of the tag team division on Tuesday nights either way, regardless of who came out victorious.
Moving onto the WWE World Championship picture, everyone’s favorite jobber, James Ellsworth reared his head once again this week in the efforts of taking on the “champ that runs the camp,” AJ Styles.
What first appeared as an elaborate scheme for AJ Styles to look like a fighting champion on Tuesday night, ended up being a nightmare for “The Phenomenal One” as with a little help from special guest referee, Dean Ambrose, James Ellsworth would actually manage to secure a pinfall victory over the champion.
As a result, it was then announced on “Talking Smack” that Ellsworth will go one-on-one with the champion once again this coming week, only this time the WWE World Championship will be hanging in the balance.
First things first, James Ellsworth is a hilarious entity on the WWE roster whenever he shows up – that much is certain. Even at that, the man’s pinfall victory over AJ Styles this week wasn’t a career-low for the titleholder at all, as it was made abundantly clear that Dean Ambrose’s antics in the black and white stripes are all that contributed to Ellsworth walking out with his arm raised.
But logically, that fact alone should be grounds not to award Ellsworth with a championship match. Of course, nobody is expecting him to win the WWE World Championship on Tuesday. He’s likely going to be made short work of by an incensed AJ Styles, but it’ll still go down in the history books that the man competed for the holy grail of sports entertainment, which raises quite a number of red flags.
Similarly to the situation with the tag division, if this had been done last month, the issue may not be so significant, but SmackDown is at the beginning of its very first head-to-head encounter with Raw, and just handing championship opportunities away isn’t exactly going to make your main event picture look credible.
Sure, the WWE is all about entertainment, and theoretically, if the fans enjoy it, there’s really no problem awarding James Ellsworth with a crack at the big one, right? But if it lessens the significance of the strap – which in this case it’s a very real possibility, then it does matter. Ellsworth is great, and he should stick around as long as possible, but it still stands that one win is not enough to justify a match of this caliber.
SmackDown is still the dominant show, and will likely maintain that lead past Hell in a Cell and into Survivor Series, but it can’t be stressed enough just how important it is to make the brand’s championship pictures look as good as possible for that to happen. Giving away opportunities to undeserving challengers is not going to get them very far if they intend on outmatching Raw heading into the storied pay-per-view.