WWE’s Ottawa Smackdown and the Rise of the Lunatic Fringe
Every reform movement has a lunatic fringe — Theodore Roosevelt
The Superstars of WWE’s Smackdown Live blazed brightly tonight inside a near sold out Canadian Tire Centre. One of them, however, shined brighter than the rest in Ottawa’s little corner of the WWE Universe. You just had to look around the arena. The signs would tell you who the crowd was waiting for before the cheers from those holding them did. Ottawa was living on the Lunatic Fringe and Dean Ambrose would have no problem keeping them there!
Smackdown’s commissioner Shane McMahon kicked off the show much to the elation of the crowd glad to see he’s still standing after the vicious bump he took Sunday night at the Survivor Series in Toronto. There was a little less spring in his step eased perhaps by the adoration of the Ottawa crowd seeing him live for the first time in over seven years.
“Shane-o-mac! Shane-o-mac!” they shouted.
Shane, despite telling the crowd he felt like he’d been in a car accident, couldn’t hold back the grin.
“You still got it,” the audience assured him.
While praising his team for their victory over the WWE’s Raw brand Sunday night in their traditional Survivor Series matchup, the commish would have some harsh words for the man who nearly power-bombed away their victory. Dean Ambrose didn’t need much more of a reason to make his way down to the ring to wisely divert attention onto the unsung hero of team Smackdown, 31-year-old James Ellsworth, who has taken the wrestling community by storm of recent despite being in the business for well over a decade.
The ultimate underdog, Ellsworth has yet to be signed to the main roster. He's often been utilized in more comedic roles or as the brand’s mascot. Ambrose, however, had plans to change that. The former Shield member would provoke his rival and current WWE Champion AJ Styles into a match with Ellsworth that would have a contract on the line. It wouldn’t be just any match, either. Ellsworth would literally have to climb the ladder to earn his spot in a Ladder Match. Considering how this match has its origins in Canada, it only seemed fitting to break out the steal in the Nation's Capital.
“There is much more creative freedom on Smackdown,” says Alec Miske, one of the hosts of Wrestling With Ideas on CKDJ 107.9, a fact made all the more apparent by the main event that had just been set.
Long-time wrestling fan Adam Gough agrees that Smackdown has stepped up their game since the start of the second brand split that divided the WWE roster. He looks at Smackdown as a showcase for new talent that has added a stronger focus on long-term storytelling.
“I think the brand split has given more opportunities to the mid-card wrestlers as they have more time to be focused on and develop,” says Gough. “A chief example of this would be the women's division.”
The WWE have transformed the women’s division into one that has competed with the men for some of the top matches on the card. If you needed any proof outside of the glowing performance of the women who have pulled out all the stops to get the division over this year, just look inside the Hell in a Cell. Last month, for the first time, the women headlined a major PPV.
Tonight would be no different as champion Becky Lynch took on Natalya in a non-title match.
Natalya would have a hard time playing her role as a heel in Canada. The Calgary-born Superstar is a third-generation member of the much respected (especially here in the Great White North) Hart wrestling family, a lineage that includes her father Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and her uncle Bret “The Hitman” Hart. One fan at ringside, dressed at Bret, represented the strong Hart family fanbase in Ottawa as he urged the crowd around him to cheer Natalya despite the heat she was trying to draw by taunting the champ.
The cheers weren’t enough. Natalya, attempting her uncle’s Sharpshooter, would fall victim to a counter by Lynch into her Disarmher submission.
This would not be the last of the Canadian content the Canuck crowd would see. Ambrose, after being asked to leave the building by McMahon, kept reappearing on the show with each new entrance inching the Cincinnati Native closer to becoming an honorary Ottawan. If his reference the poutine wasn’t enough (and it was as it received one of the largest pops of the night), showing up backstage with Ottawa’s own Colonnade Pizza pushed the already ecstatic crowd over the edge. Showing up dressed as a Mountie in a nice nod to Jacques Rougeau only elevated the crowd's want for more Ambrose.
In event that saw fantastic Tag Team Turmoil Match, an Intercontinental Title defense and appearances by fan favourites Kane and Daniel Bryan, it would be Ambrose that would steal the show when he appeared for a final time in the main event. This time dressed in an Ottawa Senators jersey he tossed down the gloves and proceed to give AJ Styles an introduction to how we fight hockey-style. The interference would give Ellsworth the chance to ascend the ladder and clutch his contract. As an astonished Styles looked on, Ambrose lifted Ellsworth and paraded him around the ring as though he had just won the championship itself.
It was a shocking win for the underdog.
The victory would earn Ellsworth a coveted spot on the Smackdown roster with Styles still clutching WWE gold. It may only be a matter of time for the phenomenal one because, though Ellsworth climbed that ladder, tonight was all about the rise of the Lunatic Fringe.
– IC Title Match: Champion The Miz defeated Kalisto
– #1 Tag Team Turmoil Match: American Alpha won via pin
– Non-Title Match: Champion Becky Lynch defeated Natalya via submission
– Baron Corbin defeated Kane via DQ
– Ladder Match: James Ellsworth defeated AJ Styles
–Dark Match: Dean Ambrose and Kane defeated Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper