The road to SummerSlam has been pretty smooth on the SmackDown Live side of things, truth be told, and last night’s go-home show was no exception. The general consensus is that talent tries a little bit less on the last show before big PPVs, for fear of injuries or giving away too much before the paying audience tunes in, so we usually get short squashes and a lot of promos. Last night’s Blue Brand show mostly stuck to that, but we did get a weirdly entertaining back-and-forth affair between the WWE World Champion Dean Ambrose and the Least Important Wyatt Family Member, Erick Rowan, (quick side-note for the writers: please don’t split up the Wyatts again, it didn’t work last time and it won’t work now) and a long if not particularly great main event between John Cena and Alberto Del Rio.
The same problems that have plagued SmackDown Live since its inception a month ago still remain (nothing to fight for in either the tag or women’s divisions, and a depleted roster that could start feeling dull soon), but for the most part, we’re seeing a lot of things happen for the first time, which feels fresher than Raw’s by the book approach to the flagship show. Hell, that little stare down between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt hints at a possibly-great feud once the Viper is done with The Beast Incarnate. So, in honor of SmackDown Live, let’s go all killer no filler and dive into the last show before The One Show That Is Big But Not WrestleMania Big.
5. MizTV Delivers the Goods, For Once
Miz TV used to be a chore to get through, but ever since The Miz was joined onscreen by Maryse, their trollish antics have made the segment as must-see as the Intercontinental champion always claims it is. Last night was no different, as we got a final promo battle between Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler to open up this last SmackDown Live before the “biggest party of the summer.”
One thing I’m digging about this feud is how realistic both guys’ motivations are, a welcome change of pace from being pigeonholed into traditional face vs. heel dynamics. Neither guy is particularly “noble” right now, because both guys have reasons for fighting that transcend good and evil: for Ziggler, he wants to prove himself by all means necessary (which is why he “cheated” against Bray Wyatt a couple of weeks ago, and why he suckerkicked the champ last night), while Ambrose wants to stay at the top of the mountain that he clawed and scratched on his way up. Also, extra props to Miz and Maryse’s reactions in the background of this feud, especially their “oh shi-” faces when Ziggler kicked Ambrose’s “head right off [his] face” (what in the world does that mean, Dolph?).
4. Can We Get Some Titles, Please?
Oof, both the tag and women’s divisions treaded some heavy water this week. This is a byproduct of putting both of those titles on Raw; it leaves the blue brand with a lot of filler until they introduce the heavily-rumored titles for each division (titles that were both strongly hinted at last night). The tag division got the worse end of the stick this week, as the chaotic 12-man tag match didn’t lead to anything exciting, aside from another American Alpha win; at least we can’t complain about them botching their booking early on. It also just hit me that the freaking Usos are the elder statesmen of the division, and if you’re banking on Uce 1 and Uce 2 to anchor your division amongst a pile of rookies, you’re going to be extremely disappointed.
On the women’s side, at least we got a SummerSlam match out of two uneven segments; first, Naomi came out as a Cosplay Raver with new (terrible EDM) music and equally awful ring gear (she looks like a jigsaw puzzle from the set of Batman Forever) for her match against Eva Marie…who was delayed due to traffic, as hilariously announced by her personal narrator. Bless you, All Red Everything. That little non-match led into the tag match of Becky Lynch and Carmella (Beckmella?) vs. Natalya and Alexa Bliss, which was won by the Irish Lass Kicker off of a distraction surrounding Eva Marie finally showing up. We’ll have a 6-women tag on Sunday featuring the faces (Becky, Carmella, Naomi) taking on the blonde-and-red heels (Eva, Natalya, Alexa). Hopefully, we get those titles soon and move into some real feuds.
Not much happened in what appears to be the SummerSlam main event feud between Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton, aside from poor Heath Slater getting destroyed again. Honestly, the One-Man Band has been the MVP of the brand split so far, and it’s not even close. I still want him to head down to NXT to put on one or two great matches, but if his role is to bounce between shows in order to inject humor into a variety of feuds, well…he could do a lot worse for his 96 kids.
In terms of Brock and Randy, however, we did get a pretty sweet video package that traces the concurrent histories of the two men. Brock Lesnar is such a better talker in pre-recorded videos, and he showed it here; his “I don’t care about Randy Orton” works only because he follows it up with stuff like “I am a huge mega star, he’s…just a star” and the liberal usage of the bleep function. Orton holds his own as well, although he’s mostly there to be a blank slate capable of RKOing at any time (I would have popped hard if he had appeared in Brock’s Raw-colored set). The feud may have been a bit disjointed due to being on two different shows, but the match should be a brutal affair. Can’t ask for more than that from Lesnar at this point, and can’t hope for less from a motivated Orton.
2. John Cena Stands Tall, Of Course
Before diving into the main event and, especially, the post-match stuff, it must be noted again that WWE has taken Mexican wrestling royalty and turned him into a half-punchline, half-jobber to the stars. Alberto Del Rio could not be sleepwalking any harder, and it’s a shame to see.
Anyway, after Cena predictably gets beat down by “the pride of Mexico” before popping up to hit one Attitude Adjustment for the victory, AJ Styles (who was fantastic on commentary as a poor man’s Kevin Owens to David Otunga’s poor man’s Byron Saxton) sneak-attacks The Face That Runs the Place and drops a good promo about…well, something about “your time is up, my time is now.” What is it about Cena that makes all of his opponents just steal his taunts? Of course, Johnny Boy doesn’t take this lying down, reversing Styles’s attempt at a Styles Clash into an AA in the ring. Remember how Ambrose and Ziggler don’t really have face-heel dynamics right now? Cena took a page out of their book, foregoing a quick celebration and walk to the back in order to deliver a massive AA to Styles from the ring steps through the announcer table. A statement of intent, sure, but also, an action that creates doubt into the winner of this “dream rivalry.” In fact, let’s go into that a bit more…
1. Will the Law of Reverse Momentum Hold True This Week?
If there’s one rule in wrestling that you can bet on and consistently win, it’s the “Law of Reverse Momentum.” Whoever stands tall at the go-home show will, almost always, lose at the PPV. It’s WWE’s way of giving the eventual loser a time to stand tall in order to make him look strong, especially if it’s a multi-month feud. Sometimes, the company leans into this rule only to pivot at the last second, which is fun, but most of the time, they’re very predictable, which is less fun. If we apply this rule to last night’s show, it appears that Dean Ambrose, The Miz, and (surprisingly) AJ Styles will come out victorious on Sunday. As for Lesnar and Orton, the law doesn’t really apply for two reasons: 1) the split shows allows both men to stand tall in the same build-up to the PPV and 2) you can count on a different, more accurate law: the Law of Lesnar. It would be a shock, even with his PED dark cloud and reports that no one really likes to work with him, to see Brock lose his shroud of invincibility to Orton of all people. Regardless, this was a breezy pit stop on the road to SummerSlam, which should live up to its moniker as the second biggest show of the year.