Written By: Mark Armstrong
(Read the original version on Pro Wrestling Journal at http://prowrestlingjournal.com/index.php/2018/07/11/wwe-smackdown-review-analysis-07-10-2018/.)
This was the final episode of SmackDown heading into Extreme Rules (I hate using the term “go-home show”). And with so little time to focus on so many performers (Samoa Joe attacked Tye Dillinger before SD went on the air in an angle that wasn’t even acknowledged during the show), it looked like being an eventful episode, which is how things proved to be.
Miz TV w/ Team Hell No
Remember when The Miz had said that Daniel Bryan was banned from Miz TV? Anyway, as is his trademark, Miz (who doesn’t have a match at Sunday’s PPV, by the way) attempted to create friction between his guests by a supposedly-wrong playing of a video which showed Kane torturing Bryan after the original Team Hell No run had ended. Bryan threatened to punch Miz, but it was Kane who quietly advised him not to. Any thoughts that Kane (who randomly and hilariously had frank beliefs regarding NSYNC and Justin Timberlake in what proved to be a running joke during the night) was secretly helping Miz, though, disappeared when the host described the Big Red Machine as broken-down and washed-up.
That fuelled Kane to wrap his hand around Miz’s throat for a potential Chokeslam. But just as Daniel Bryan’s music saved Miz from a Bludgeon Brothers beat-down two weeks ago, here it was the Bludgeon’s music that turned the attention of Team Hell No. Before Harper and Rowan made it to the ring, though, Sanity unexpectedly showed up and joined the Bludgeons in dismembering Kane and Bryan. The New Day made the save (Sanity had attacked New Day last week, setting up a six-man Tables match for the Extreme Rules Kick-Off Show) leading to a ten-man brawl, and afterwards, a ten-man tag team match involving all parties was announced as the main event.
AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
How times change. The dream match/feud, for which the seeds had been planted in the summer of 2017, has now reached the point of being just another TV bout to help promote separate feuds. In this case, it was designed to add steam to AJ’s WWE Title defence on Sunday against Rusev, who along with Aiden English sat at the commentary desk. Nakamura has recovered now from the recent police dog bite, and was in good form here; it’s interesting that when we look back on the AJ-Nakamura WWE feud in years to come, and factor in their famous New Japan showdown from 2016, it will be their WrestleMania 34 battle that stands out as being the weakest.
Anyway, this was a pretty good match, but you just knew that there would be some sort of confrontation between AJ and his next challenger which would ground things to a halt. Sure enough, after an outspoken Aiden English took another blow from Styles at ringside, Rusev pulled the WWE Champion off the apron, and he and Shinsuke began the beatdown. That was, until the save by Jeff Hardy, who of course defends his United States crown against Nakamura at Extreme Rules. You’ll know where this is going, so stop me if you’ve read something akin to this before: Paige then came out to officially make this a tag team match! I couldn’t be more shocked.
AJ Styles & Jeff Hardy vs. Shinsuke Nakamura & Rusev
Something that I found interesting about this match: usually, when a doubles bout such as this has a dual purpose to promote two PPV encounters, the quarrelling parties are kept away from each other, at least when it comes to the primary, World Title showdown. Instead, AJ and Rusev worked much of the match against one another, which initially made me think that Shinsuke might have suffered a slight injury in the previous contest. But he did get involved after Jeff Hardy tagged in, though he was floored by a flying Styles punch to ringside. From there, then, Rusev struck Hardy with a Machka Kick for the win. Rusev has momentum, but I don’t believe this will translate into the Bulgarian Brute – and the Honorary Of Rusev Day, no less – becoming WWE Champion in a few days’ time.
Asuka vs. James Ellsworth
Considering who Asuka’s opponent was, and the stipulation, this was a by-the-numbers gimmick match which shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Ellsworth, the general loser in life who has somehow developed into an arrogant and sexist pig, continuously attempted to run away from the Empress Of Tomorrow despite the SD Women’s roster serving as Lumberjacks to keep James from escaping. After a mass brawl led to Asuka diving onto all of the, erm, extras at ringside, Ellsworth tried once more to leave, but was caught by Becky Lynch and Naomi. Carmella attempted to interfere, but it backfired and Asuka forced Ellsworth to submit with the Asuka Lock. Post-match, Ellsworth sprayed something into Asuka’s eyes, and Carmella dropped her with a kick. This wasn’t particularly good, with Byron Saxton afterwards claiming “This was possibly the worst wrestling match I’ve ever seen”. Don’t hide your true feelings, Saxton!
After the match, Paige revealed that Ellsworth would be trapped in a Shark Cage when Asuka challenges Carmella at Extreme Rules. I hope Asuka wins the SmackDown Women’s Championship on Sunday, not only to try and rehabilitate her career, but because it feels like the Carmella “experiment” has gone as far as it possibly can.
Backstage, Team Hell No and The New Day discussed strategy for the main event. New Day and Bryan discussed various methods to weaken their opponents; Kane suggested setting the five adversaries on fire. Eventually, they all agreed to work together, with Kane offering up advice based on his new heroes NSYNC.
Sin Cara vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas
El Idolo! Andrade Almas finally has another match on TV, and his unresolved feud with Sin Cara was allowed to be settled here. I expected a quick squash-level win for Andrade, but instead it felt more like a showcase for Cara, who looked damn good in this match with several big springboard moves. In particular, a reverse hurricanrana out of the corner almost dropped Almas on his head. Almas did strike back with big moves of his own, and eventually polished Cara off with the running knee attack into the corner. But Sin Cara boosted his stock here with a strong showing, so while Almas will undoubtedly rise up the card as the year progresses, don’t be surprised if Cara gets a bit of a push too. (By the way, can you believe it has been more than seven years since the original Sin Cara first arrived in WWE?)
Team Hell No & The New Day vs. The Bludgeon Brothers & Sanity
This ten-man tag team scrap lasted for almost 20 minutes in total, so one would think that we saw a ton of action. Well, the live crowd in Manchester, New Hampshire may have, but we the TV audience didn’t. Indeed, they cut to a break around a minute in, then we get a mid-match advert for Extreme Rules (while Harper had Xavier Woods in a headlock, admittedly), and then there was another commercial. So, we actually only saw around half of the match in total, which wasn’t a particularly good thing.
As for what we did see in the match, it was fine, and also a lot of fun. After some early momentum for the babyfaces, it was (unsurprisingly) Xavier who served as the face-in-peril as almost all of the heels tagged in on occasion to beat him up, though none looked to secure a win as Woods looked to try and tag out (which is something I’ve never understood about tag team wrestling; the heels will have control for a good 5-10 minutes, relentlessly pounding their opponent, but never actually try to end the match, but then the face will tag out and within 3 minutes we’re into the finishing sequence). New Day did intervene on one occasion which brought the fight to ringside with Sanity, eventually allowing Woods to tag out to Bryan. Further brawling led to almost everyone hitting their finishing move, before Bryan sealed the victory with a running knee to Eric Young. If you’re keeping count, Sanity’s record on the main roster is now 0-3, at least for televised matches.
After the match, Bryan tried to replicate Kane’s taunt of summoning fire when dropping his arms. Two attempts did not work, with Kane trying to explain Bryan that only he has such capabilities (it’s wrestling, remember). But as with most things in life, the third attempt proved successful, and fire ignited in the arena to the surprise of Kane, giving the team a further boost for Sunday. It’s hard to say whether the bigger surprise was that Bryan’s attempts at the dark arts worked, or that we actually saw pyro in a TV setting for the first time in over a year.
This was certainly an eventful show, and when reading it back, it feels like WWE did a good job of providing a last push for Extreme Rules. The big issue to me was the predictability of it all. The way that the matches are set up, the manner in which we cut to break (the heels retreating to ringside, or a big move on the floor by one participant), or the finishes themselves. The fact that the show’s best parts were Kane expressing his secret fondness for NSYNC, the Almas vs. Cara match and Bryan suddenly morphing into Kane circa 1997 demonstrates that while the content was far from poor, the formula needs to be tweaked somewhat (this applies to Raw too, more so actually). So, it was a fun show, but nothing that you wouldn’t have seen before; look past the seen-it-all-before feel of things, though, and it was still worth checking out.