Smackdown Live has done a good job thus far of separating itself from Raw as a stand-alone brand. Last night’s TLC event was a welcome addition to the WWE Network catalogue. It was a solid show, and had some impressively hardcore spots. In the age of concussion research, there’s only so much they can get away with. But within the bounds of Wellness, they pulled off some creative uses for those household items we see every day: Tables, Ladders, and Chairs.
I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t address the well bronzed elephant in the room. AJ Styles has been known to adapt in any situation, and as he stated in his Stone Cold podcast episode, he likes to put a unique spin on traditional maneuvers. In this particular instance, Styles would take a page out of Shawn Michaels’ playbook, and accidentally reveal his buttock.
Of course, in this post-attitude era, we only got partial buttock (part-butt), which was accompanied by a sliver of blood. Many fans speak of Styles as the new HBK, but who would’ve known that fate would intervene with its own tip of the cap to wrestling history, with a nice big rip in the tights of the Phenomenal One. After an insane chair bump via modified suplex from Ambrose, AJ’s tights were sliced open into a little peekaboo of a circle -- a window to the behind behind the champ that runs the camp. The perfect contrast of colors, a tan skin tone on blue, made it all the more noticeable, like an autumn leaf floating gently on the surface of a vibrant pond....
Okay, enough about AJ’s butt. The biggest shock of the night was James Ellsworth’s involvement in the finish of this stellar title match. In an unpredictable swerve, the loveable jobber turns on the man who brought him to the dance, Dean Ambrose, pushing him off the ladder and allowing Styles to retain. It wasn’t exactly Brock Lesnar defeating Undertaker, but it was still awfully surprising. After everything Ambrose has done for Ellsworth, and everything Styles has done TO Ellsworth, what motivation could the man with two hands possibly have?
Luckily, Ellsworth explained his actions on an episode of Talking Smack immediately following TLC! The addition of Talking Smack has been incredibly influential to WWE as a whole and provides some much needed epilogue to an otherwise poorly promoted brand. It has also been a great launching pad for Superstars like The Miz to reinvent himself, as well as Alexa Bliss, who broke kayfabe last night and revealed some real emotion surrounding her Women’s Championship victory. She went right back into character, but it was a special moment nonetheless.
Back to Ellsworth, though. Those who are following this storyline know that Daniel Bryan had promised a title match to James after he had defeated AJ Styles twice due to Ambrose’s interference. Ellsworth explained that he had Styles’ number, and that’s why he allowed AJ to retain. Ever the tragic figure, Ellsworth was seemingly naive to the whole premise of having betrayed his friend, rationalizing it by saying that Ambrose would’ve done the same thing. The character of James Ellsworth is an interesting one, because he’s a man who is seen as a joke, but is playing a large role in major storylines. This goes beyond the classic underdog story, since he hasn’t let go of his “enhancement talent” image.
Ellsworth is a super underdog. He is an almost Shakespearean calibur fool who is as oblivious as he is endearing. While we want to like Ellsworth in all of his adorable chinless charm, once he perceived himself in a higher regard, power (as it consumes all of humanity) rears its ugly head and Ellsworth cannot help but fall victim to his own hubris. The best part about this heel turn is that it’s completely out of sheer delusion.
James Ellsworth is a little bit more than your classic comic relief. He reflects the weakness in all of us. You can look at Heath Slater and 1-2-3 Kid as your traditional underdog stories, because they are believable threats to some degree, but fans are only ironically backing Ellsworth. Even Zach Gowen, the one-legged inspirational wrestler who courageously fought and was pummeled by a young Brock Lesnar, had a sympathetic backstory. Ellsworth is a jobber of a different color.
This Tuesday on Smackdown, AJ Styles defends his title against the man with two hands who stands a chance. And if we look at the infamous David Arquette WCW championship reign, in the wrestling world, Ellsworth does stand a chance. I don’t expect WWE to do something as hypocritical as tarnishing the title by putting it on the skinny fat waist of James Ellsworth, but there is something romantic about his rise and inevitable fall. Reality will strike down Ellsworth in a morality tale straight out of Aesop’s fables.
The story of James Ellsworth is beautiful and sad and everything that pro wrestling should be; hope being consumed by power, transforming it into something ugly and irrational. Ellsworth goes above and beyond the everyman and shows us the vulnerable every-human who, when given a fighting chance, will be manipulated by its own ego, and is destined to self-destruct.