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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

SmackDown Live brings the past year’s best rivalry to a brutal, fitting end

Illustration for article titled iSmackDown Live/i brings the past year’s best rivalry to a brutal, fitting end
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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: Jinder Mahal defeated Sami Zayn; Tye Dillinger defeated Aiden English; Natalya and Carmella defeated Naomi and Charlotte; Dolph Ziggler defeated Sin Cara; Kevin Owens defeated Chris Jericho (c) to recapture the United States Championship
  • I won’t say this was the only way that Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho’s story could end. As soon as Jericho defied expectations and beat Owens at Payback on Sunday, the prospect of a triple threat between Owens, Jericho, and number one contender A.J. Styles at Backlash was deeply appealing. After all, it would bring Jericho and Styles full circle, with both having traveled the same journey from decently respected face to despicable but roundly cheered heel to fully realized, cocky but loveable face. Plus, triple threats and their no-disqualification rules would have let Kevin Owens retake the title in a way that sends Jericho away and keeps Styles strong. But, but: As had felt clear throughout much of the pre-Payback build, A.J. Styles remains an interloper in this story, which really probably did need to end with one final showdown between Jericho and Owens.
  • And in that context, it’s hard to find much fault with the last match between the two former best friends. Anyone who has looked up the tour schedule for Jericho’s band Fozzy knows it would be essentially impossible for him to appear at any upcoming SmackDown or Backlash, so the presumed inevitability about Sunday’s result just transfers tenfold to tonight’s match. On some level, I wonder how much Jericho was even trying to hide it: He looked a little swept up in the emotion of the moment just before the match began, as though he was aware tonight marked the end of what might seriously be his best run in WWE. (And if it isn’t, it’s damn close.) The story is a simple one: The heroic Jericho still wants to inflict some well-earned pain on Owens, the two know each other far too well for any straightforward moves to work, and it’s mostly a question of whether Jericho can dodge that one almighty Pop-up Powerbomb. The post-match beatdown to an injured Jericho lets his story with Owens end in the grimmest, most horrible way possible, with Owens established as the monstrous asshole to end all monstrous assholes. Again, the unapologetic A.J. Styles mark in me was hoping the Phenomenal One might run down to try to make the save and set the Backlash story in motion, but no: Better to keep the focus where it belongs, which just this once is not on A.J. Styles.
  • Styles’ presence tonight is shockingly minimal, though it is amusing to think he was there standing in the ring with both of his WrestleMania opponents. He even got in a reference to Y2AJ, my favorite tag team of all time. And yes, A.J., I’m aware you guys had shirts, even if I did have to buy one from China to get my hands on those long discontinued beauties.
  • Randy Orton is notable by his absence tonight, though the Viper has surely earned a break after turning in that career-defining performance in Bray Wyatt’s House of Horrors. (No, seriously, say what you will about the ridiculousness of that match, but nothing is funnier than Randy Orton “acting” his response to the various horrors. Well, either that or the spooky backwards tractor. Could go either way on that one.)
  • SmackDown Live does continue to do a half-decent job building up Jinder Mahal as a threat in time for Orton’s next appearance. I can’t really argue with someone who objects to Jinder’s push to the WWE Championship scene on principle, but I really can’t object to Jinder’s role tonight. He has a competitive match with Sami Zayn, who is just the man to make Mahal look like a million bucks while taking a loss (if you want someone to make a big guy look like a million bucks but squeak out a win, you get A.J.). While Mahal gets the win, it’s only with the Singh Brothers’ interference. Sure, there are some guys who should probably be in this spot ahead of Jinder Mahal. That said, almost all the more deserving candidates are faces, and so for as long as Randy Orton is still nominally a face, Jinder isn’t so ludicrous as a heel foe. Sure, that says more about the show’s paucity of heels than anything Jinder showed before these past few weeks, but so far the Backlash build has been fine. Not great or anything, but fine.
  • My beautiful son Tye Dillinger (I share custody with my Vocativ colleague Tomás Ríos) continues his climb up the lower mid-card. While he had a rematch with Aiden English, he actually beat SmackDown’s singing superstar more decisively than he did last time, leaving English weeping and broken afterward. Again, the heel shortage makes me unsure who could be next for Dillinger, but the ease with which he has dispacted Curt Hawkins and English in his early matches suggests he’s on track for bigger things.
  • Naomi was impressive tonight in the handicap portion of the match, both in terms of how strongly she was booked against the Welcoming Committee and in terms of how crisp her moves looked. She still has room to improve her in-ring performance, but so far Naomi has responded well to the challenge of being the Women’s Champion. As for the Welcoming Committee, I’m not necessarily opposed to a heel stable, but I do worry a little about tying three women (and one James Ellsworth) together in a six-woman division, as that essentially means you only have four storytelling pieces available to use for as long as they are together. Wisely, SmackDown Live keeps the three faces (assuming that’s what Charlotte is now) separate in their fates, not even hinting at any particular alliance between the three heroes.
  • I am so, so glad Becky didn’t actually join the committee. I didn’t think it was going to happen, and her using Ellsworth to launch her sneak attack was brilliant, but I was with the Fresno crowd in desperately not wanting this to happen. Becky’s just too perfect a hero to go bad… for now.
  • The Fashion Files with Tyler Breeze and Fandango was perfect. Absolutely perfect. The fact that they goofily did their own incidental music was more perfect than perfect. Give those men the tag titles… or generate all the heel heat in the world for the Usos (Uggos) when they come up short. Either way, Breezango are off to the races, and it’s a joy to watch.

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