3/13 WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT: Keller’s coverage of empty arena event at Performance Center featuring John Cena, Jeff Hardy, and Paige making special appearances

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MARCH 16, 2020

Announcers: Tom Phillips, Jerry Lawler, Byron Saxton

Tonight after WWE Smackdown, join me live with guest cohost Frank Peteani from PWTorch.com to break down the show with live callers and mailbag.

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-After the WWE branding video, Triple H stood in front of the Performance Center. He introduced himself and welcomed viewers, then showed off the Performance Center. He said on any given day, 100 students are training there. He listed Sasha Banks, Bayley, Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, and Baron Corbin as having “all walked through these doors.” He said tonight they pass through the doors and not to train, but rather than entertain. He said this show will be different than anything they’ve seen before. “Sit back, relax, and if you can forget about the world around you and let WWE do what we do. Let us put a smile on your face. Welcome to Friday Night Smackdown on Fox.”

-The AC/DC Smackdown intro song aired as the camera panned the empty arena and Cole introduced the show. He said it will be a unique show in front of an empty arena. He plugged the return of John Cena to talk about his WrestleMania match against Bray Wyatt, plus Jeff Hardy. He also plugged an interview with Roman Reigns to talk about the “spear vs. spear Universal Title match” at WrestleMania.

-“And we kick things off with Boss Time,” said Cole with a little less vitriol. The ring announcer introduced Sasha and Bayley. He said “ladies and gentleman” in his introduction, and he meant the viewers at home, not the live audience for once. They went to ringside where Cole sat next to Triple H. Cole said, “As you can imagine, we are working with a very small crew here tonight.” He said he’d be joined by a number of guest stars, starting with Triple H. Triple H said it’s an amazing opportunity to show the world what they do in a very different way. Sasha and Bayley got to ringside. Bayley said the Role Model and the Legit Boss have arrived. (Noticing here how weird it is for the wrestlers to talk to empty chairs. They should all be addressing the cameras directly at this point or actual people like Cole and Hunter.) Bayley addressed Hunter and asked where Paige is. Sasha said she’s late and they’re on time. Cole said Paige has apparently had travel issues. Triple H told Sasha and Bayley he’s sick of Cole’s excuses. Instead, Alexa Bliss walked out with Nikki Cross.

Bliss asked if they love surprises. She said they were expecting Paige, but it doesn’t look like she’s going to be there. Bliss said they called out the Kabuki Warriors, but all they got were some weird tweets that they couldn’t make sense of. She said if they ever stop talking trash about everyone in WWE history, they’re ready to fight them. Nikki got excited about the prospects. Bayley said if they want a fight, they just made a big mistake.


Triple H said when you’re not feeding off the crowd, it’s a different feeling and there’s a completely difference performance level that’s going to take place. He said it’ll be interesting to see who can bring out the fire themselves. Paige and Bayley regrouped at ringside early. Nikki leaped off the steps onto Paige. Bliss slidekicked Bayley into the announce table. They cut to a break. [c]

Cole said it’s a surreal night. “This is odd!” he said. Triple H said in Vince McMahon’s voice, “What a debacle this is, Cole. Ahhhh!” Then he added, “That’s my best Vince McMahon.” They actually cut briefly to the announcers away from the action in the ring. The match continued. (I wonder if they considered having the wrestlers in training who are the P.C. regularly to occupy seats in the crowd, with proper social spacing, to provide some atmosphere.) Cole talked about Promo Class run by Dusty Rhodes, and that when Bliss was training at the P.C., all of them at that time knew Bliss was going to be a star. Triple H imitated Gordon Solie briefly. He said he needs Mauro Ranallo to help him with some pop culture quips. Cole cackled and said, “You’re a little too old for that.”

Triple H talked about Sasha and Bayley revolutionizing women’s wrestling. He talked about walking past a Takeover poster with them on it when they sparked the revolution. Cole said it was one of the most classy match-ups. Bayley complained of an eye injury. Asuka ran out to ringside and threw Biss into the ringpost. Banks then put Nikki in the Bank Statement and she tapped out. Sasha’s music played.

WINNERS: Banks & Bayley in 12:00.

-They went back to the announcers at ringside. Cole said it’s been a lot of fun, but then told Triple H he has a lot of business to tend to in order to get through the night. Hunter said he’s not very good at this, so he’s going to leave it to Cole “even though a lot of people think you’re not very good at it.” Cole laughed – seemingly genuinely, to be fair – and transitioned to plugging the Reigns interview. And it’s “Exclusive!” (WWE scores the big interviews with their Superstars!) [c]

-Back from the break, they showed the exterior of the Performance Center.

-A video package aired of Goldberg two weeks ago asking “Who’s next?” and then Reigns coming out with a staredown.

-Cole introduced Roman Reigns. He walked out and looked around at the empty seats like he looks at the crowd. They keep going with a camera angle where they catch the back of another guy’s head. It was strange hearing his music without boos. Cole and Reigns fist-bumped (setting a solid example by avoiding the handshake) asked Reigns, “How weird was that?” Reigns said, “I mean, we’re in a businesss based out of reactions and filling seats and making people loud and stand up. It was weird, but it’s good to be back in the Performance Center.” Cole asked about his past year. Reigns said there’s been highs and lows, but ultimately no matter what happens, as long as he has his health and able to wake up and participate in the next day, that’s what’s been driving him all year. He said he finds himself in familiar territory being “towards the main event.” Cole said a lot has happened over the last year, and there have been a lot of critics that he put himself in the main event at WrestleMania and he doesn’t deserve it. He said he’s been dealing with critics his whole career. He said if he can main event Youngstown, Ohio in front of 5,000 people and other cities every night, why can’t he capitalize on all of that hard work. He said he’s busted his ass night in and night out. “There’s nobody here who has that level of commitment I have,” he said, sounding like he’s turning himself heel. “When it comes down to it, I literally came back as fast as I could to do in order to do what I love. So now that I’m here, I’m not bowing down to anybody and I’m taking what’s mine and I’ve done everything to deserve what I get.”

(Keller’s Analysis: Man, that was a capsule of obliviousness that is a big part of why he’s been booed for years and hasn’t been able to adjust so often. He just explained why he deserves a main event in a way that’s completely disconnected from the storylines. The criticism of him main eventing WM isn’t because he doesn’t deserve it in real life; people are critical of the booking within the storyline that instead of winning the Royal Rumble or Elimination Chamber, he just walked out and was granted the shot. How does he or the people coaching him not see the vast and vital difference between these two approaches? And then bragging that nobody is as committed as him just comes across as arrogant at the expense of his colleagues. This was another one of those completely un-self-aware tone deaf segments with him that he’s had on various off-TV interviews over the years.)

Cole said they are billing the match as spear vs. spear. Cole said on their digital morning show, The Bump, Goldberg said he’s going to bulldoze him. Reigns smiled and said Goldberg went to Georgia, so he’s not sure he’s smart enough to operate a bulldozer. “Seriously, though, I have a lot of respect for Goldberg,” he said. He said their job is filling seats, and he’s done a good job of that and he’s an icon. “But he’s a part timer, man, and we don’t have time for that here. I’m a full time performer and I’ve dedicated my life to this craft… I was bred for this, born for this. I’ve been groomed since I was just a little boy. He doesn’t know what he’s in for. This ain’t about one move. I have mastered the nuances of performance. I’ve busted my ass week in and week out and the experience have shows it. So when it comes to the main event of WrestleMania, I’m going to whoop Goldberg’s ass. I’m taking back my Universal Championship and I’m going to set this place right.” His music played and Cole talked about their match again.

(Keller’s Analysis: That was awful, and a capsule example of so much of what’s just so screwed up about WWE’s approach to conveying what they do within the narrative of their shows. Reigns talks about whooping Goldberg’s ass, but then he muddies his message by talking about “mastering the nuances of performance.” WTF does that have to do with winning a match? The business is all about putting people in seats? Isn’t the purpose of his business to “win matches” within the narrative of this show? It’s this incomprehensible mish-mash of kayfabe and meta talk that is just so unpleasant and disengaging.)

-They went to Kayla Braxton backstage. Cesaro interrupted her and introduced Sami Zayn as the new Intercontinental Champion. He nicknamed him “The Untouchable Sami Zayn.” Baxton said they’ve been bumped from this segment. Sami said that would normally enrage him, but they have celebrating to do. In walked Jeff Hardy. He said it feels so good to be back. He said he’s as happy and healthy as he’s ever been. He said he’s searched his soul and replied he has a lot more to do. In walked Baron Corbin who said not everybody’s happy he’s back. He said some things have changed. He said he’s a benevolent king. He asked if he’s going to recite the alphabet backwards or maybe close his eyes and touch his finger to his nose. Hardy said he has a match and he’s surprised he hasn’t heard. Corbin asked against who. Hardy said it’s against him. In walked Elias with his guitar. He said he has a song for him based on what he said about him last week. He said he went ahead and wrote a song about the whole thing. Corbin said he doesn’t have time for this. He walked out as Elias began strumming. Elias said, “He’s got no idea what’s coming.”

-They plugged that they’d present the Elimination Chamber Tag Team match next.

-They went back to Cole and Triple H at ringside. Cole said they hear all the time about how busy Hunter is, yet he’s back. Triple H said he is the only man in the world who can get demoted and get busier. Hunter said it only took one comment on the show begging for him to return and save the show, so he’s back. Cole laughed and said, “I guess we’re going to shoot tonight.” (Cole and Hunter seem to have a genuine appreciation for each other.) They reviewed Daniel Bryan beating Drew Gulak at EC.

-Backstage Bryan said he’s been looking all over for Drew. Drew tried to walk away. Bryan said when he told him he had holes in his style, he didn’t believe him. But when they got in the ring, Drew countered everything he had and he had never experienced that before. He said a week after their match, his neck still hurts. “I’m willing to learn, are you still willing to teach?” Gulak pondered the offer when Sami walked up to him with Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro. Sami gloated about becoming the IC Champion after pinning Braun Strowman, and there he is, a shell of his former self after having been chewed up and spit out. “You’re reduced to asking for wrestling tips from a nobody,” he said. Bryan stepped toward Sami, but Cesaro got in his way. Bryan said his issue with Sami. Cesaro asked if he has a problem with him. Bryan asked if that was a challenge. Sami said it sounds like it. Bryan told Cesaro to meet him in the ring. Gulak noted that Sami called him a “nobody.”

-Cole asked if they can make Bryan vs. Cesaro official. Hunter said, “After a promo like that from Shinsuke Nakamura, absolutely you can make it.”

-They cut to the Elimination Chamber Tag Team match from this past Sunday. (Read my full detailed Elimination Chamber report HERE.) They went to a commercial after the big spot by Gran Metalik leaping off of the pod onto Kofi Kingston and Big E. [c]

They cut to another break few minutes later after Big E broke up a cover on Kofi by Miz. [c]

-They went back to Cole and Hunter at ringside. Cole said, “The world indeed is watching.” He touted that they are the no. 1 trend on Twitter. Triple H joked that Cole went to the bathroom and “fortunately we haven’t been affected by that run on paper, you know what I’m saying.” Cole laughed and threw back to Philadelphia.


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