The Smackdown roster seems to be undergoing a post-WrestleMania facelift.
While the brand split has been insignificant in recent years, the blue brand has still proven to be a training ground of sorts for younger - or newer - superstars to ply their trade before heading to Raw.
Smackdown has seen a few debuts in recent weeks, in the form of Damien Sandow through pre-recorded promos and Ryback through squash matches. Tonight's episode saw three more superstars join the ranks.
Darren Young, who was part of the original incantation of Nexus, and Titus O'Neil, featured on NXT, debuted as a tag team with a victory over The Usos.
While the pair, especially O'Neil, looked a little goofy in their backstage promo, they looked good in the ring. The match didn't blow me away by any means, but both teams put in solid efforts in a quick bout.
Additionally, developmental talent Antonio Cesaro - known as Claudio Castagnoli on the independent circuit before signing with WWE - made his main roster debut in a backstage segment with Teddy Long, Aksana and John Laurinaitis.
New blood is always a good thing in wrestling, as it helps keep the stories and product seeming fresh.
Having Young and O'Neil come up as a team makes sense as it gives them both something meaningful to do and it bolsters the tag team division. Now if Tag Team Champions Primo and Epico could get some TV time, we may be on to something.
As for Cesaro, he has limitless potential to succeed if given the right opportunities. He has the size and the build that Vince McMahon looks for in a superstar, and he has the talent to back it up.
Cesaro, as Castagnoli, was always one of my favorite stars to watch in indy promotions, and I have no doubt he's capable of success in the big leagues.
With these three now appearing on Smackdown, Sandow's debut seeming imminent and Ryback destined for something more practical than squash matches, the midcard scene in Smackdown may be heating up in recent months.
This could be a fun summer for the blue brand.
- Cody Rhodes did the WWE Universe a favor when he took out The Great Khali before the six-man tag main event could begin. In his stead, though, Big Show pulled double duty, teaming with Sheamus and Randy Orton to face Daniel Bryan, Rhodes and Mark Henry. The match was given ample time, and each superstar was given a chance to show their stuff before the babyfaces ultimately emerged victorious. This was a fun way to close out the show and use one match to build a few pay-per-view contests.
- Alberto Del Rio defeated Big Show with an assist from Cody Rhodes. Del Rio and Show were having a decent contest, about the best we can hope for from the giant these days, when Rhodes used Ricardo Rodriguez's referee distraction to land a Beautiful Disaster kick on Show, giving Del Rio the pin. Hopefully after Extreme Rules, if Show is still champion, he'll start defending the title more instead of competing in non-title action. For now, though, it's more essential to build the heat between Rhodes and Show heading into what will, with any luck, be their final encounter.
- The storyline relationship and falling out between Bryan and AJ works so well because of the character roles each one plays to perfection. In the last few months, Bryan has proved his critics wrong with his promo abilities and charisma, and AJ fits the bill of innocent victim extremely well. I can't think of another diva on the roster who could be inserted into this role that would accomplish nearly what AJ has. The show-opening promo between the two, in which Bryan went so far as to say he wishes AJ had never been born, was a strong way to open the show.
In her match with Natalya, who was last seen tagging with The Great Khali in a mixed-tag match as a babyface but was acting like a heel tonight, AJ just snapped. She slapped Natalya and then assaulted her in the corner in pure cat-fight fashion, leading to a disqualification. There wasn't much of a match here, but it's nice to see AJ undergoing some character development.
- Brodus Clay introduced his "brother" Hornswoggle to the crowd, and they danced together. Looking at continuity really quick - Finlay is Hornswoggle's father; Hornswoggle is Clay's brother; does this mean Finlay is Clay's father as well? That's just awkward. As for his match, Clay squashed Hunico before Hornswoggle splashed him. I thought Clay was beginning to make some progress, but this was clearly one-step-forward, two-steps-back booking.
- Orton vs. Kane is officially a Falls Count Anywhere match at Extreme Rules. Hopefully this match is the blow-off to their feud, as it's already started to feel old. Give Orton the victory and move on.
- Ryback killed a jobber. I'm almost tired of writing this. Can we get to something of substance, please?
Natalya d. AJ by disqualification
Brodus Clay d. Hunico
Titus O'Neil and Darren Young d. The Usos
Alberto Del Rio d. Big Show
Ryback d. James Lerman
Sheamus, Randy Orton and Big Show d. Daniel Bryan, Mark Henry and Cody Rhodes
Tonight’s Smackdown was a marked improvement over last week’s live edition. The show featured some quality wrestling, some promising debuts and built well toward a few of the matches for next weekend’s Extreme Rules pay-per-view. With a few tweaks, such as having Ryback do something more than kill jobbers, Smackdown could be required viewing every week. As it stands, it’s a show with untapped potential, but one still worth watching.
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