Following up Sunday’s excellent Backlash PPV was always going to be a challenge for SmackDown Live, but if there’s one thing we should all be learning to do, it’s not underestimate the blue brand writers. Not only did we get a solid two-hour show on its own, with a fun women’s #1 contender’s match and a star-powered main event, but we already set off strongly on the road to the NEXT live special, October’s No Mercy (side note: I am so glad they are bringing back these old PPV names; still crossing my fingers for the eventual return of Halloween Havoc though). Aside from the tag titles, we know for a fact what every title match will be at that show, giving us the full month to build up the feuds properly. We also got the “return” (after like three weeks and four total shows) of John Cena, which is more of a mixed bag than I expected/hoped.
As if that wasn’t enough, Jack Swagger is now on SmackDown Live! Ok, no one is that excited about the All-American American swapping shows, but hey, it’s something with forward momentum for now, so let’s see how it goes; given how Tuesday nights have gone, we might be singing his praises soon enough. The smaller roster and more hyper-focused show is tailor-made to give guys like Swagger a second (or in his case, like, a seventh) chance at stardom. It’s the type of show that can give performers ranging from The Ascension to AJ Styles time to shine on the same show. And if No Mercy delivers as strongly as Backlash just did, it might also be the (to borrow from The Miz’s book of catchphrases) most must-see TV show WWE has to offer.
5. The Worst Version of John Cena Is Back
I’ve become a bigger John Cena fan than I ever thought possible since his feud with Rusev around WrestleMania 31. It’s not just that he evolved his moveset and elevated some midcard performers with his United States Championship Open Challenge; it’s that he stayed far away from the main event picture for well over a year. You see, “World Championship Challenger John Cena” is the worst version of Cena that there is. He runs down everyone in sight, because the character still believes that every single person needs to face him (and lose to him) to prove that he is a man. When he’s working lower-card belts, he becomes an almost altruistic figure that only wants to entertain and work on his in-ring skills. When he’s going for the main belt? It’s ball jokes, rundowns, and “you ain’t as much of a man as me.”
That being said, throwing in Dean Ambrose should at least make this upcoming triple threat at No Mercy more interesting than a traditional Cena feud. Ambrose calling Cena a part-timer was savage, and saying that he’s a corporate puppet cuts to the very core of Cena’s ego. Hey, speaking of that triple threat…
4. You Get a Title Shot, YOU Get a Title Shot
Why do WWE GMs (and commissioners) love giving out title shots simply because someone said “give me a title shot,” regardless of the context? First, Shane McMahon makes the aforementioned triple threat, even though only Ambrose has a real claim to one (both because of AJ Styles’s low blow and because of the stupid rematch clause); Cena just took a few weeks off after losing to Styles, so why would he get a title shot without proving it in any way? It’s just because he’s John Cena, and it’s so frustrating.
But that’s nothing compared to later in the night, when Daniel Bryan gives Dolph Ziggler a title shot to redeem his title shot that he got for…doing nothing. Sure, Miz cheated on Sunday, but who cares? Ziggler hasn’t proven that he deserves even one title shot. It’s frustrating, whether it’s a face GM giving other faces unwarranted opportunities or a heel GM doing the same to punish the good guys. And while this wasn’t exactly a GM decision, THE ASCENSION of all people get a match for the tag team titles? I get that Heath Slater challenged anyone at anytime, but that is bleak and not really the way you’d want to start the Heath Slater and Rhyno Open Challenge series, if that’s what this is. At least they got squashed pretty quickly so Heath could get back to celebrating having a job to provide for his 62 kids.
3. Feel the Bliss
Look at you, SmackDown Live; not just advancing two storylines in one 5-way women’s match, but also making the correct choice on who to put over. Anyone who’s watched NXT since her heel turn knows that Alexa Bliss is a heel goldmine; from the best facial expressions in the business to being ridiculously hossy for such a tiny person, Bliss is the perfect first opponent for ultra babyface Becky Lynch, who cut quite the promo before the 5-way number one contender’s match (ending it with a wry “come at me…brooooooos” was a nice touch). The match itself wasn’t as good as Sunday’s showcase, but did have some great storyline moments, particularly between Carmella and Nikki Bella; The Fearless One clocking Fabulous Mella right at the start of the match was worth a chortle, and her leaping lariat to the outside was worth a gasp and a half (seriously, if Nikki’s new in-ring gimmick is Shinsuke Nakamura But With Her Arms, she’s going to be the GOAT). And by stealing Carmella’s eventual pin attempt on Nikki to win the match, Bliss made herself two new enemies on top of her shiny new women’s title feud with Becky.
2. Bray Wyatt Continues to Be Useless
In this week’s edition of How Will Bray Wyatt Disappoint Now?, we had him cut a promo where he admitted to being embarrassed before his lackey, Erick Rowan, got picked off like a bug by Randy Orton. So not only did Randy Orton cost Bray on Sunday, he got to stand tall on last night’s show. What even is the endgame here? To make Bray so useless that he retires? Or to build up Randy Orton at Bray’s expense so he can get jobbed out to whoever ends up as champion by that time (oh boy, get ready for John Cena vs Randy Orton, part 986)? Either way, Bray Wyatt is an embarrassed cult figure, which is just a ridiculous thing to be. I miss Husky Harris.
1. Advancing Storylines 101
James. Effing. Ellsworth. If you missed this glorious man’s Raw moment (getting obliterated by Braun Strowman), you were in for a treat last night. The diminutive jobber just has a natural goofy charisma that is unique to anyone in the company; you simultaneously want him to get destroyed and to get a beer with him. The surreal pre-match graphic featuring John Cena and Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles and James Ellsworth will be a meme for ages to come, and Miz running through him and (perhaps inappropriately) hitting his finisher on the Connor’s Cure logo on the ramp gave him more heat, as if that was possible. You ARE the main event, Miz.
In all seriousness, the main event might have been an impromptu tag match from the previous era of SmackDown, but it was used to further three separate storylines at once; that’s the type of efficiency that the more lean blue brand show needs to maximize its shorter runtime. First, we had Miz obliterating Daniel Bryan’s choice for an AJ Styles partner, continuing their meta feud (and making me hope more and more that Bryan’s solution will be to bring up someone from NXT to finish the job; a certain Samoan Joseph comes to mind, but so does the King of Strong Style). Then we had AJ’s feud against everyone else, which pits him as an unexpectedly charming underdog who is such a butthole that you can’t help but love him. And finally, and most interestingly, we have Dean Ambrose attacking his partner after their win, because Dean is unhinged or whatever. Actually, though, Dean is at best when he’s just attacking everyone in sight (see: attacking both Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns before their excellent triple threat match at Battleground), so this is a good route to take on the build to next month’s No Mercy PPV.