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: AJ Styles defeated Kevin Owens (United States Championship); Aiden English defeated Sami Zayn (seriously); Naomi & Becky Lynch defeated Carmella & Natalya; Rusev defeated Chad Gable; Shinsuke Nakamura defeated John Cena
- It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but it means a lot that AJ Styles is finally wearing blue gear. It’s one of those “little things” professional wrestling thrives on—and WWE prides itself in, even when it’s not called for—as “The Face That Runs The Place” known as SmackDown! should already wear blue gear in the ring. As for the actual match between Styles and Owens, it’s arguably the best one-on-one match they’ve had in this feud. Their Battleground match greatly lacked the sense of urgency and desperation that this match has, which is a discussion perhaps for the comments (as a pay-per-view match should, in theory, surpass a TV match). But this match works well with the idea that Kevin Owens is aware how dangerous AJ Styles’ moves are, and he just wants to avoid them, as well as put Styles away as quickly as he possibly can. (By the way, this match also serves as a reminder that AJ Styles is a lizard person whose body moves in mysterious ways.) The headbutt to get out of the Calf Crusher is good, but an even better choice on Owens’ part is his (failed) attempt to later grab AJ Styles’ hair that he hates so much to get out of the same move. The problem, however, is that this match reveals that an Styles/ Owens can’t exist without a stupid ending—even though it’s totally fine if either man loses clean to each other. (Remember: Baron Corbin constantly gets matches just by attempting to murder his opponents, so it’s not like Kevin Owens couldn’t just do that after a clean AJ Styles win.) Besides the fact that Kevin Owens missed referee Mike Chioda by a country mile with his “punch,” there’s also the fact that Chioda keeps selling his right eye after the fact, despite commentary just previously going on about the left eye.
- Even worse about the stupid ref bump—and compared to the majority of ref bumps, it’s really stupid—is Byron Saxton’s role as the diehard babyface commentary. “It almost looked intentional,” he argues, even though the spot as depicted definitely did not look intentional. “[The ref] couldn’t see it,” explains Byron, despite the fact it’s later addressed that Mike Chioda shouldn’t have even counted the pin in the first place. He also tries to call it “retribution,” even though Kevin Owens very much beat AJ Styles at Battleground with both of Styles’ shoulders on the mat (whoops!). The only rhetoric worse on this show is Vince McMahon’s belief that “love” is the ultimate heat magnet and, well, the continuation of unfocused xenophobia-based gimmicks.
- Kevin Owens (re: Shane McMahon): “He’s the worst one here!” Vindication, in WWE dialogue form.
- Just when you think the Usos can’t get any better, the already fire Usos theme gets a remix (and pull half a CM Punk or Rated RKO). They still can’t cut a promo without at least one line of overt homophobia (don’t they ever get tired?), but the rest is all good. There certainly is something endearing about Jey Uso randomly saying “comic books!” You know it’s good because of that kid in the crowd who’s giving them the thumbs down while getting turnt to their song.
- “No wonder this show got canceled the first time.” In true WWE reviewing fashion, Kyle Fowle’s last write-up involved a Big Show/Big Cass main event, while mine involved a damn ode to Twin Peaks and David Lynch (on a main roster WWE show). Even when we’re failing, I’m the one who at least gets to fail upwards.
- Finally, Aiden English is “the Mozart of mayhem,” as “the Mozart of melody” is obviously just Mozart.
- re: those unfocused xenophobia-based gimmicks… After the mess that was the Battleground Flag Match, WWE continues to have Rusev remind everyone he’s a “FOREIGN HEEL.” And this is despite having a pretty solid base in this week’s show to just portray him as an accomplished (and entitled) athlete who doesn’t feel like he’s getting the competition he deserves. That actually nuanced gimmick is immediately thrown away in favor of providing fodder for Randy Orton’s 2017 gimmick of a non-fun USA Guy, as Rusev replies to Orton’s acceptance of his challenge… completely in Bulgarian. Since when does Rusev just start cutting promos in the language of his people? Since WWE decided it should apparently double down on people constantly complaining about three different wrestlers on the same show all having anti-America gimmicks, of course. It’s bad writing, especially when you have a good story right there.
- Rusev versus Gable is also really good for what it is, though I’d be curious to see if WWE realizes what it’s doing here. In this match alone, Gable comes out to crickets, only to progressively get over with the crowd as the match progresses. You know, that organic connection to the crowd you don’t quite get when you’re thrust into a high-profile storyline as Kurt Angle’s illegitimate son. I am a fan of both former members of American Alpha, but I’ll admit I see Chad Gable as more of the complete package than Jason Jordan. (I’m fairly certain my past NXT reviews also mentioned how I saw more in Tye Dillinger than Jason Jordan during their tenure as a tag team, so… Best of luck to Jason Jordan.)
- Jinder Mahal’s promo might be his worst yet, if that’s even possible. (Sorry you’ve missed out on a month of me explaining why this entire experiment still isn’t successful, but the fact that the phrase “the winner faces Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam” consistently gets no reaction says a lot.) Why does he have a Skybox when he works here and should probably be, um, working? Why must he address Nakamura and Cena as “the man from Japan or the American” when he’s decrying xenophobia? Is he supposed to be treated as a modern day Maharaja or as a second class citizen? I don’t see any of this ever being answered, but it all does lead me to an extremely important question. Will the scab on the bridge of his nose ever heal? I’m also very curious to see if he can continue to cut the same nonsensical anti-American promo against “the man from Japan” moving forward in this feud though.
- If there’s one thing we should probably never take for granted when it comes to this era of WWE, it’s the in-ring product being as good as it is on a regular basis. There’s plenty of credibility in the argument against giving away something like Shinsuke Nakamura versus John Cena away for free on television, but at the same time, Cena (particularly in his matches against AJ Styles and even Dean Ambrose) has proven that he knows how to bring the greatness in TV matches, only to bring the greatness in a different way on pay-per-views. (This match’s touch to go for a third AA immediately after the second is inspired, by the way.) That’s a very important skill to have in WWE, and it’s one that allows for WWE to provide such a good weekly in-ring product (for the most part) when its creative direction can still be lacking in certain (non-Fashion Police) areas.
- I’ve already gone through the emotional stuff about ending WWE coverage on my Twitter, so I’ll just say one more thing. It must be kismet that I’m going out on WWE coverage while a Naomi/Natalya feud is in progress. You’ve got to admit: The A.V. Club gods have some funny timing. Now, without further ado, the real reason you came to this review.