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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Only days removed from an atrocious PPV, Smackdown! Live is seemingly back on track

Illustration for article titled Only days removed from an atrocious PPV, iSmackdown! Live/i is seemingly back on track
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Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Results: Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Baron Corbin; Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch defeated Lana and Tamina; Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger defeated Aiden English and Mike Kanellis; AJ Styles defeated Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens (c) to win the United States Championship.
  • Did everyone else reading this nearly ruin the ceiling in their living room by jumping off the couch when Chris Jericho’s music hit in the opening segment? I love when WWE pulls off a legitimately surprising return. The timing couldn’t be more perfect in terms of storytelling and optics too. On the optics front, Smackdown! Live is coming off of one of the worst PPVs of all time, and a big return like Jericho’s can draw attention away from that. As far as storytelling goes, Kevin Owens had just won back his coveted prize, primed to roll into Summerslam as the champ and the New Face of America. The only thing that could effect that on a scale that really, really matters is having his former best friend come back to ruin everything. Later on in the night, after Shane McMahon sets up a Triple Threat match for Owens’ title in the main event, Y2J helps do just that.
  • What to say about Baron Corbin and Shinsuke Nakamura? Their match at Battleground was a snooze, so Smackdown! Live goes ahead and runs it again. On the one hand, it’s the same old story of the weekly show just running rematches from the PPV. On the other hand, the match is a bit better, and it helps move Nakamura into an interesting spot next week (more on that below). And really, Nakamura needs something more interesting to do. Corbin isn’t a great dance partner for him, and it’s showing. That’s not Corbin’s fault by any means, it’s just that the two don’t fit together. Corbin needs someone more invested in storytelling aspects in the ring, and Nakamura needs someone who really understands how to engage with his style. That’s not happening here.
  • One of my favorite weird kayfabe inconsistencies is that when a wrestler dismisses the backstage interviewer, as Natalya does tonight, we all somehow still hear the audio. Then why do the interviewers come with mics? WHY?!?!
  • I talked about this a bit on Twitter—I really need to start saving some takes for these posts—but I’ll reiterate and expand upon my point here: I think this current iteration of Lana is the perfect example of WWE shooting itself in the foot when it comes to its own talent. Lana was an amazing manager. She could talk, she had an authoritative presence about her, and her chemistry with Rusev was off the charts. She was an equal part of what made that couple the most compelling aspect of every single feud they got thrown into. So what does WWE do? They move her away from the place where she’s truly essential and attempt to force her into a role that’s only vaguely defined, and one that, quite frankly, she’s struggling with. This isn’t Lana’s fault; you have to take the opportunities you’re given. But WWE should be cognizant of the strengths and weaknesses of their talent, and transitioning Lana away from a managerial role removes one of your best storytelling pieces. Smackdown! Live is a TV show populated with characters, and they matter. Or at least they should. They’re integral to the stories. Lana was an incredibly valuable asset as a manager and mouthpiece, and now she’s just another body in a shaky division.
  • The Singh Brothers are a no show tonight, so it’s possible that Randy Orton finally went to their house on Monday and threw them through their own tables for once.
  • After retaining his WWE Championship at Battleground in a match that only the people within the match could see, Jinder Mahal is here to demand his Summerslam opponent be revealed. As with most of Mahal’s promos, there’s not much to it. His voice seems to struggle to get to that register that brings about true force and intimidation, and his cadence is robotic. So, WWE does what it always does and tries to hide Jinder’s flaws—rather than, you know, moving him into a more appropriate spot on the card—hitting John Cena’s music, and making way for the 16-time champ to declare that he’ll be Jinder’s opponent at Summerslam. Cena’s promo is fun, with him showing some respect to Jinder before telling him that there’s no way he’ll retain his title. To top it off, he drops the damn mic at the end of it all, telling Jinder, “it’s nice to meet you, you can’t see me, now HIT THE TRUMPETS.” If I’m 8-years-old and I’m watching this, I’m finishing my Count Chocula at breakfast tomorrow then telling my Mom to “HIT THE TRUMPETS” before walking out of the room (and being scolded by my Mom). It’s such a bold, brash statement, the kind that Cena delivers with real conviction and arrogance. It’s perfect.
  • What’s more perfect is that Daniel Bryan comes out and immediately puts a stop to Cena’s Summerslam declaration. For once, an Authority figure that isn’t evil tells Cena that he can’t just make his own matches. It’s a nice trend on this week’s show, as Shane also lays down the law with Kevin Owens, saying that his job isn’t to be fair to Owens or to care about who holds the United States Championship, but rather make sure that he’s putting on must-see matches each and every week. When LaToya Ferguson, only a few weeks back, continually talked about how out of control Smackdown! Live was getting, this is what she was hoping for as a correction. Your GM and Commissioner don’t have to be mean, they just have to be the boss. Angle works the same way on Raw, and it’s refreshing to see. So, Bryan tells Cena that he has to earn his shot at the title, and sets up a #1 Contender match for next week against Smackdown! Live‘s undefeated superstar, Shinsuke Nakamura. Coupled with another announcement later on in the night, we could be looking at quite the show next week.
  • Still, how weird and disappointing is it that WWE has Nakamura vs. Cena in their back pocket, and it’s being used to determine who will face Jinder freakin’ Mahal at Summerslam?
  • I may have lost all of my Canadian chill when Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger teamed up to take on Mike Kanellis and Aiden English. As just about everyone knows, I am unflinching in my love for both of those guys. They are everything I love about pro wrestling babyfaces. They are genuine, compelling, and downright lovable. Their passion is evident in everything they do. Watching Dillinger get a massive hot tag tonight, and Zayn get a pinfall victory, really warmed my heart.
  • Can we take a second to truly appreciate how The Usos are absolutely killing it right now? They are at the top of their game. They’re vicious, vindictive, and terrifying. They’ve completely transformed themselves, and it’s been beautiful to watch.
  • Much like Raw on Monday night, Smackdown! Live delivers a stellar main event this week. This one sees Kevin Owens defending his United States Championship against AJ Styles and the returning Chris Jericho, both of whom are technically owed rematches. Unsurprisingly, the match is all sorts of chaotic and thrilling. Y2J and Styles immediately go after Owens, but before long everyone is pairing off, starting with the inevitable moment where Owens and Jericho finally come face-to-face again. The match builds and builds, and a number of moments add to the momentum, from Jericho hitting a Lionsault on both Owens and Styles as the latter has a Calf Crusher locked in, to Jericho kicking out of a Popup Powerbomb that would have seen Owens retain. Instead, that kickout forces Owens to the top rope for a Frog Splash, which subsequently gives Styles enough time to recover, throw Owens out of the ring, and steal the pinfall and the United States Championship. I have some reservations about Smackdown! Live bouncing the title around, but this match was undeniably exciting, and the talent surrounding the title eases some of my worries. To top it all off, Owens gets on the mic after the match and just goes off, acting like the angry, petulant child that he is. Owens is fully this character, and his importance in this feud, and in making the United States Championship feel important along with AJ Styles, can’t be underscored enough. After an absolutely atrocious PPV, Smackdown! Live came back with a legitimately entertaining show from top to bottom. Here’s hoping it can keep the momentum going as Summerslam approaches.

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