SmackDown Live may not have the glitz and glamour of Raw, nor the in-ring power of NXT, but ever since the brand split, it does have something neither of those shows has: consistency. Even though we are only three episodes into the New Era, you already know what you can expect from your Tuesday night: one or two solid-to-good matches, some awkward interactions between rookies still getting their feet wet, a good and logical main event story, and Miz and Maryse stealing the show (seriously, they’re about three weeks away from replicating Lita and Edge’s live sex celebration, only with 100% more uncomfortable tongue action).
Considering the unfortunate timing of the draft and split (right before the second biggest show of the year, instead of, say, right after), it might feel like we’re in a bit of a holding pattern (especially with the women, who will probably remain that way until a title is mercifully introduced), but SmackDown Live’s half of SummerSlam should deliver some quality matches and some strong storyline foundations to build upon on the way to the following PPV, Backlash. That’s all you can ask for as each show builds its own identity and set of expectations. Let’s just hope the momentum doesn’t stall into autumn.
5. Eva Marie Is the Heel We Need and Deserve
Somewhere along the line in NXT, WWE figured out exactly how to book Eva Marie in order to take advantage of her meta ability to draw insane amounts of heat. Thankfully, that ability has not been dampened by All Red Everything’s move to Team Blue; after last week’s fake hamstring injury, this week, Eva Marie pulled off a storyline wardrobe malfunction to make Janet Jackson proud. It’s not so much that Eva won’t wrestle Becky Lynch right now; it’s that the reasons why she won’t have been both ridiculous and entirely sensical. Eva Marie, the character, is a coward who loves and prioritizes her looks at the expense of everything and everyone else, so of course she’d use a teasing striptease “malfunction” to get out of getting her lass kicked. It’s brilliant, and frankly, WWE needs more heels who can purposefully draw so much ire. I hope Eva Marie doesn’t wrestle until her first title shot, and I hope she wins the title without hitting a single offensive move.
One quick note about the aforementioned Becky Lynch, though: poor, poor Becky. While Sasha Banks and Charlotte are having a great, wrestling-based feud on Raw, and Bayley is about to co-main event NXT Brooklyn II: Electric Brooklynloo with Asuka, the fourth Horsewoman is stuck doing comedy bits and losing matches due to distractions from Eva Marie’s (still fantastic) ring announcer. She even played second fiddle to a Carmella-Natalya match that lasted longer than anyone could have wanted. Here’s hoping this is all leading somewhere, anywhere good.
4. The Tag Team Division’s Beautiful Disaster
In stark contrast to the women’s promo parade from a couple of weeks ago, last night’s tag team train worked infinitely better because it accomplished two important things without anyone saying a word. First, it reestablished that all of the former NXT teams have a bond that links them together, which might be the only way anyone cares about The Ascension right now. Second, it laid the groundwork for American Alpha being the best team in the world while also being constantly outnumbered and overwhelmed; while that may reach into John Cena territories of “OVERCOME THE ODDS” fatigue at some point, it’s a fresh take for two guys that are legitimate superstars. The fact that American Alpha cleaned house in a 2v6 attack is great, and the fact that they’re playing them as cocky babyfaces/tweeners allows them to face any of the other three teams on the way to building up SmackDown Live’s tag titles, whenever they come into play, is even better.
3. He’s A One-Man Band, BAYBAY!
Heath Slater, man. No matter what embarrassing storyline the Red Dragon is put into, he makes gold out of dust and some lint, without fail. Tonight’s twist might have been my favorite, because it’s the first time in ages that WWE acknowledges that he’s not a giant goober. Slater losing to Rhyno made sense, because I’m assuming Rhyno is here to put over some higher talent, not to lose to Slater and his 17* kids. But by having Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon outwardly say Heath was impressive, it gives a bit more legitimacy to his quest to grab a contract. I want him to go down to NXT and put on a 4-star match with Shinsuke Nakamura. I want him to stop by EVOLVE and wrestle Timothy Thatcher to an hour-long draw. I want him to get dropkicked so hard by New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Kazuchika Okada that Slater forgets he’s a jobber and comes back to win the WWE World Championship. These are the things I want.
2. Will The Real Alberto Del Rio Please Stand Up?
An Alberto Del Rio match at this point in time is a crapshoot. Since returning to WWE last year, Del Rio has been inconsistent (to put it nicely) and downright apathetic (to put it truthfully) inside of the ring. That would be fine if he wasn’t so damn good when he wants to be, like during last night’s impromptu match with Randy Orton. You can always tell when Del Rio is checked in by the way he moves, with both grace and tenacity. I especially liked the little details, like him twisting Orton’s fingers while doing the (illegal!) cross armbeaker on the ropes before the ref could break it up. There’s a reason that Del Rio is a multi-time world champion, and a reason that he was incredible in his short run on Lucha Underground last year: the man “gets” professional wrestling down to an atomic level. It would just be appreciated if he decided that he cared more often; given the news that he might bail from WWE again this fall, maybe he’ll get that fire back on the independents. Regardless, more of this, Alberto, and less of sleepwalking through a 12 minute match with Kalisto.
1. Dean Ambrose Is Finally the Loose Cannon We All Wanted Him To Be
Ever since The Shield was born from the brilliant mind of CM Punk (allegedly), we’ve always heard Dean Ambrose described as one thing: The Lunatic Fringe. In the past, that’s meant little more than “I make crazy faces and have offensive moves that look wacky but also weak as hell.” Like most things in WWE, it was a marketing ploy more than a character trait, which was disappointing, given Deano’s acting skills and genuine connection to the fans. Well, the game done changed; ever since his feud with Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, but especially since the brand split went into effect, Ambrose has been attacking everyone left and right, showing that he might be SmackDown Live’s true Lone Wolf (sorry, Baron Corbin). It’s not a babyface being dumb and attacking his friends, and it’s not a heel cheap-shotting the heroes. It’s more than that. It’s what someone with Dean’s credentials and personality SHOULD be doing: looking out for himself, while picking up advantages whenever he can. The post-match Dirty Deeds sent a message both to Dolph Ziggler and to the fans watching, as Ambrose laid claim to being The Guy on the blue brand. And, as we know from Roman “One Versus All” Reigns, The Guy doesn’t need temporary friends.
So, we roll on to SummerSlam with SmackDown Live in a pretty consistent place, which isn’t the worst place to be. Once the show figures out its secondary titles, and once the higher ups realize this really should just be the Miz and Maryse Show, we may have a pretty good Tuesday night staple on our hands. Until then, there are worse ways to spend two hours on the most boring day of the week. Allow yourself to be entranced by the Slightly Above Averageness of All Blue Everything.