by The Unemployed Booker, Staff Writer
Houston, we have a problem.
That’s ok, because one thing I’m good at is cleaning up booking mistakes. I’d tell you to check my track record, but you Internet wrestling marks are still trying to figure out who I am. Good luck with that. I’m kayfabe for life! This week we are going to try to get SmackDown out of their mess.
Not only was there bad booking leading up to the Superstar Shake-up, but it was a major botch to take your top heel (in the middle of your main event feud no less) and send him to the other brand.
The next big mistake was thinking it was a good idea to make a face Randy Orton the champ for any length of time. Not only does Randy not play the good guy role well, AJ Styles is the only heel left on the roster with enough clout to face the champ. You would assume that’s his next feud then, but the creative and booking geniuses at WWE just made AJ the number one contender for the United States Championship, basically removing him from the WWE Title picture. Next in line, I would assume, is Baron Corbin, but since he lost a match to be the number one contender for a lower tier belt, that pretty much negates him from being eligible to go for the top ranked belt anytime in the immediate future. You could have the debuting Nakamura challenge Randy, but he just got there, and you should give Shinsuke a proper build to make the payoff bigger.
Between booking themselves into a corner and the constrictions of the Superstar Shake-up, SmackDown Live is literally at the point where we need to press and hold the top button and the home button to initiate a hard reset. This is the point where most of my former colleagues begin drinking hard liquor and get that “not showered in a week” look. I on the other hand begin to salivate because it gives me a chance to book one of my favorite things ever… a tournament!!
Booking tournaments has tons of advantages. You see, inside a tournament you can blow off feuds, you can start new feuds, you can put two guys everyone is dying to see fight against each other without having to make them mad at one another, you can break up tag teams, give the fans surprises, use it to fill lots of time on your program, and a host of other things. Tournaments are like the Big Bang of your promotion. It’s the easiest way to get things started because it can be a jumping off point for so many storylines.
THE SET UP
First things first, we have to figure out how to get there. Just announcing a tournament sounds like it makes sense for a sporting event, but this is sports entertainment and we need to build some drama. We have this upcoming “House of Horrors” match at Payback. Conventional wisdom suggests that Randy Orton will retain the belt since Bray Wyatt is no longer on the SmackDown brand, but that basically leaves the main show, RAW, with no major title since Brock is only going to work a few select dates. So, if somebody would hire me to make booking decisions again, I would put the belt on Bray. Other than wanting to keep the title you have on the same show, it actually makes the most sense. Why would you have Bray get beat in his own gimmick match? That’s like booking Undertaker to lose the first casket match. It makes no sense and portrays Bray as a very weak character. Now that we’ve put the WWE Championship back on WWE’s main show alongside WWE’s longtime mid-card belt, the Intercontinental Championship, all is again right with the world. Oh yeah, Brock and the Universal belt are still there as well and we can’t have that. That’s when Shane makes an appearance on the show and negotiates for Brock to move to the blue brand. Brock, obviously absent, has his advocate argue his case to stay. Shane says he has to forfeit the belt if he wants to stay on RAW which Heyman finds funny and says, “Anything not to have to wrestle on your second-rate wrestling program.” A smiling Shane-o Mac doesn’t take this degrading language well and delivers a stiff right hand, knocking Paul Heyman out and planting the seeds for a RAW vs SmackDown war. More on that in another episode of the Booking Report, but this makes VACANT the champion once again, puts the Universal belt on SmackDown, gets the title off of a part-timer, sets up a future showdown between brands, and gives you a legitimate reason to have Brock feud with Bray at some point. You give Brock a spot in a title match down the road. You can just insert him into a triple threat since you might not want Bray to pin him cleanly, but you still want to give Bray a desperately needed rub to make his character stronger. The next night on SmackDown, Shane announces the tournament over the next few weeks leading to the semi-finals and finals to commence on the Backlash PPV next month. “And it all starts right now!!”
Obviously, you can spread this out over a couple episodes or however long you need to fit it into your TV time constraints. It will be a single-elimination tournament. The entire SmackDown roster is eligible and each first round match will be chosen by either Daniel Bryan or Shane McMahon.
Match one, chosen by Shane McMahon is…..
AJ Styles vs Randy Orton
Yes, that could be a final round match, but this battle was put as the first match of the tournament for a reason. I want these guys to set the tone. To make it look like this is a huge deal and the biggest event in SmackDown history. I’m a fan of letting the workers work and I know these two can create an amazing match. That’s what a good booker does. Sets up the match and tell them how it needs to finish. Sometimes there’s important spots he wants inserted, but overall you let the wrestlers do their job and create their own match. Same goes for promos, but that’s a rant for another time. I want these two to have a good back and forth match. After several minutes, AJ needs to get a big upper hand, and he goes for the Phenomenal Forearm. Orton gets his wits about him in just enough time to catch AJ in the air and hit the RKO out of nowhere. We know the RKO needs to stay well-protected, so if Randy gets the pin it has to be a three count. Therefore, we see both men stay down. They are just too beat up to get a pin. As the ref gets to 7, 8, 9…. then at 9.5 both men roll out of the ring to break the count. Now, with both men outside and struggling to get up, the count starts again, and again it gets to 9.5 before both men dive back inside the ring to break the count this time. The match continues back and forth until AJ is all but finished and Randy goes into his strike pose, but AJ is playing possum, so to speak. As Randy looks to go for the RKO, Styles shocks everyone and delivers his own RKO out of nowhere and gets the 1,2,3. Styles moves to round two after what should be one of the best matches of the tournament and really setting a bar for what we may see throughout this bracket.
Daniel Byran chooses…….
LUKE HARPER VS ERICK ROWAN
Both men enter the ring. After a brief stare down, they go at it in a fist fighting brawl. This doesn’t have to be a long match, but it should be brutal. SmackDown has teased a feud with these two and both need to get some recognition on the show. As the match gets to the close, I want Erick to land a stiff kick that looks to knock Luke out. Play this up like he might be legit hurt and was unconscious briefly. He gets to the back with some help but on his own power. This match should be known for being brutal.
Daniel Bryan chooses……
MOJO RAWLEY VS JINDER MAHAL
No surprise that these two end up continuing their feud. Mojo comes out with Ron Gronkowski in his corner again, but this time Jinder brings some support in Atlanta Falcons’ Vic Beasley! (This match will best be served on the 2nd week after the Backlash PPV since that event is in Atlanta. You see what I did there?) The match continues for some time before Gronk grabs a chair and attempts to hit Jinder in the back as he bounces off the ropes. He misses but not before Vic Beasley sees this and gets a chair of his own, showing Gronk that he will even the odds. After a few more minutes of back and forth wrestling, both men go to hit the ropes at opposite sides of the rings and their corner supporters both seize the opportunity and land simultaneous chair shots to each superstar’s back. The ref calls for a double DQ disqualifying both competitors. All four men though continue to brawl before the fight is broken up. This continues the feud between Mojo and Jinder and adds a few more characters to the mix. Should be fun from here. See how these things can jump start or continue your already working feuds? If booked right, tournaments can advance your storyline positions positively in numerous ways.
Shane McMahon selects….
SAMI ZAYN VS KEVIN OWENS
I know, I know, we’ve seen this match numerous times, but I wanted to go ahead and get them in a match to set the tone for their relationship now that they are both on SmackDown. This match should be turned loose for KO and Sami to just work. Even if we’ve seen it over and over, they have great chemistry and work so well together. The only thing needed here is I want Kevin to go over Sami, but I want him to clearly cheat to get it done. I want Kevin to be a true cheating heel going forward and eventually, months or years later, I’ll have Sami beat KO and turn him face.
Daniel Bryan decides on……
DOLPH ZIGGLER VS BIG E
This match is really just a filler. Big E should continue to look strong but eventually the quicker Dolph gets the win by putting his feet in the ropes as Xavier runs around the ring to try save his partner. Dolph moves on to fight the winner of the next match. I had already discussed a way to split up the New Day in a previous article, but if you still want them split, here’s a good opportunity to have Xavier accidentally hit Big E with the trombone. This leads to a falling out between them until a returning Kofi Kingston shows up and tries to put the group back together again. I’d have Big E beat them both up at that point but that’s not really what this article is about.
Daniel Bryan pairs up…..
TYE DILLINGER VS AIDEN ENGLISH
Another match that’s already had a feud in progress. Another case of letting the guys work and nothing special is needed. Tye goes over cleanly. He’ll face Dolph in the next round giving the IWC marks a dream match. You’re welcome smarks!
Shane McMahon gives you
BARON CORBIN VS JAMES ELLSWORTH
When Shane announces Ellsworth has made the tournament, James will jump up and down with excitement and proclaim that he will win. Unfortunately for Mr. Ellsworth, Shane says his first match is against…. Baron Corbin. Instant fear. Ellsworth is obviously scared of the match and loses all his previous elation. The match is obviously dominated by Corbin. Eventually Carmella jumps up on the apron and proceeds to make you think she is about to remove her top. This distracts the referee and it has Corbin’s attention, also. It’s just the opening that Ellsworth needs to spin Corbin around and hit him with brass knuckles that James had hid inside his tights the entire time. This is another spot where blood would be ideal, but we’re still PG. Anyway, Ellsworth gets the cheating win to move to round two. Corbin awakes in time to chase everyone into the back where he continues his rage looking for Ellsworth who has now fled the building and is seen fleeing in his car.
Shane McMahon announces that the final first round match will feature
SIN CARA VS SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
This match will be a very quick squash. Nakamura beats Sin Cara in about a minute or two. He doesn’t really show you more than a couple of his moves and hits the finisher. Cara, out cold, is easily pinned.
Remember that all of the winners here will make it to the Backlash PPV.
AJ STYLES VS ERICK ROWAN
I want this match to be back and forth. I want Erick to look like he can beat AJ and as we move into the finish, I want it to look like Erick is actually going to go over. Rowan throws a prone AJ out of the ring. As the ref looks outside to check on AJ, Rowan hits the opposite ropes to get a running start for a dive to the outside. Just as he makes it to the ropes, Luke Harper comes out from under the ring and pulls the rope down so that Erick flips over and to the outside. He begins to beat down Erick Rowan until AJ gets back in the ring. AJ, seeing the two in the outside across the ring, takes off and throws a swan dive on both competitors knocking them into the guard rail. AJ then throws Rowan back inside and finishes him off.
KEVIN OWENS VS BYE
KO gets off easy here due to the double DQ of Mojo and Jinder. He moves on to the PPV where he’ll have a rematch with Styles.
DOLPH ZIGGLER VS TYE DILLINGER
This is another match where we will just let the workers work. This was booked to make the fans of great workers see an amazing match. I’m sure we’ll get a couple “This is awesome” chants before Dolph eventually wins.
JAMES ELLSWORTH VS SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
Ellsworth stands in the ring in amazement of Shinsuke’s entrance. Once in the ring, Nakamura smiles at Ellsworth who looks like the fear of God is guiding him. He turns, jumps out of the ring, and in a full sprint heads through the curtain. Once through the curtain he runs into a Corbin big boot at full speed. James is out cold in the back and meanwhile in the ring he’s counted out. Shinsuke goes on to face Dolph at the PPV
AJ STYLES VS KEVIN OWENS
In a rematch from the last PPV these two meet again. It’s obvious that AJ is looking for revenge from KO’s cheating victory that allowed him to retain the US belt. Again, establishing Kevin as the cheating heel, he pulls more dirty tricks, but this time, AJ keeps kicking out at two. KO continues to cheat, but AJ, now looking like Rocky Balboa, overcomes the insurmountable odds that KO has underhandedly stacked in his own favor. Eventually AJ hits his finish and gets the 1,2,3. AJ Styles is now in the finals.
DOLPH ZIGGLER VS SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
This will be the first real match we get from Nakamura. Again, another case of letting them work, and giving those fans another match they want to see. In the end, you get Nakamura moving to the finals.
The Universal Championship Final
AJ STYLES VS SHINSUKE NAKAMURA
It’s without a doubt a dream match and should be treated like one. Both superstars should receive extended entrances. This should be built as the biggest match in history. It should really feel like a big deal. As this match begins, it should start slow. No real offense for either wrestler. Then we have KO coming to the ring. AJ is sent into the ropes but he sees Kevin on the opposite apron and grabs a rope to stop himself. Nakamura, realizes that AJ is looking at something behind him. He turns to see KO on the apron, and in the blink of an eye, he delivers a Kinshasa to Kevin Owens. The kick sends Kevin off the apron and through the Spanish announce table! Nakamura turns to Styles, shakes his head, and makes a gesture that it’s just you and me. I’m not letting someone else ruin this match. They shake hands and proceed to give us the match that we’ve all seen them deliver. In the end, Nakamura wins. After a brief celebration with the belt he helps AJ up. They stare at each other for a minute and then embrace in a show of mutual respect.
Obviously, the embrace at the end of the main event, coupled with AJ continually overcoming the odds throughout the tournament, has turned him baby face. He will move on to feud with the cheating Kevin Owens where he will overcome all the odds and capture the US belt. In my booking world, I kept the belts on him and Nakamura for a couple of years. Obviously, they both will drop them at times and get them back at points. Then in two years, I want AJ, the US champ, vs his best friend Nakamura, the Universal Champion at Wrestlemania 35. I want it to be all the pomp and grander of a great Japanese sumo or like Ali/Foreman times 10.
On top of that, you have many other feuds to work with based off of this tournament. Lots of directions to take things going forward. That sticks to my M.O. of always booking so that you can change things if needed. The bottom line is, this was a SmackDown reset, and the best way to start or restart a wrestling company is with a tournament to get things established… but what do I know?