Wrestling Review: WWE SmackDown, July 31 2018

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Image Source: Mandatory

Written By: Mark Armstrong

(Read the original version on Pro Wrestling Journal at http://prowrestlingjournal.com/index.php/2018/08/01/wwe-smackdown-review-analysis-07-31-2018/.)

We move ever closer to SummerSlam, the biggest party of the summer where there will be major matches, likely championship changes and a few unwanted beachballs. SmackDown has been doing a good job of building towards that card lately, so let’s find out how they fared this week.

Becky Lynch-Carmella Segment

The show opened with Becky Lynch offering up her thoughts about her upcoming challenge to Carmella at SummerSlam, noting that she hasn’t held the SmackDown Women’s Championship since December 2016, nor has she even had a title shot since WrestleMania 33. Carmella came out to interrupt her, and seemed to speak from the heart when talking as herself, rather than her character, to discuss Evolution (yet again), her match with Becky, and the criticism she has received for her wrestling. Her monologue lasted a few minutes, and culminated in her wanting to shake Becky’s hand. Despite her apparent sincerity, Lynch was having none of it, but James Ellsworth’s music then hit … providing a distraction for Carmella to attack Lynch. Making the save was the returning Charlotte Flair, who attacked Carmella and sent her scurrying to the back.

This was an effective way to open the show, but we’ve seen Alexa Bliss cut a few promos where she pretends to be turning face, only to quickly backtrack into full heel mode (and often to cheers, paradoxically), as well as one or two from Carmella itself. At a time when the lines between reality and the fantasy world of WWE storylines are becoming more and more blurred, it’s both tricky to determine when WWE is actually allowing a performer to state their case for real, and when it’s all part of the work, as they say. Which is part of the fun of watching wrestling, I know, but the fact that Becky still felt (rightly) that Carmella’s speech was a ruse means that the champ may as well have just played her usual heel role, since it would have led to the same outcome. Though she showed her true colours in the end, segments like this only make it harder for fans to want to boo the villain and cheer the face. We know that everybody is on the same page in real life (well usually), but within the confines of a TV show, the illusion of wrestlers having issues with one another should still be allowed to exist.

Just to back up that claim, backstage Carmella then insulted Paige, mentioning that the injury-enforced retirement of the SmackDown General Manager wouldn’t allow her to hold Mella’s title anytime in the future. Her punishment: a match with Charlotte in the main event, whereby Flair could enter the championship bout at SummerSlam with a victory.

The Usos vs. The Bar

A rematch from a belting bout at last year’s Survivor Series, this one started a little slow (and it spread into three segments, though one still got the feeling that we were seeing glimpses of the action, a tactic that seems to be prevalent a lot on SmackDown these days), but soon built up and led to a storming finishing sequence. Of note, Cesaro leapt in and struck one of the Usos (hey, I still get mixed up; I won’t elaborate in case Sasha Banks gets on my case) with a huge uppercut out of nowhere, and the distraction led to Sheamus getting the win. The Bar (who had a humorous series of videos on social media parodying “It’s Comin’ Home” on social media throughout the day) are back, and they now face The New Day (who had their own, pancake-themed announcer’s table at ringside, though we didn’t hear from them as often as you would expect) next week, with the winners meeting The Bludgeon Brothers at SummerSlam.

Samoa Joe Promo

There are wrestlers who will cut a 20-minute promo, with the intensity rising until the final stretch where they deliver the smoking gun of their speech. And then there are guys like Samoa Joe, who get right to the point. Initially praising AJ Styles, noting how he has respect for him, he then twisted the notion of AJ being a committed champion and wanting to do anything to be #1 to him being an unreliable father and a poor husband. The family card nearly always results in violence, but with AJ not in the building, Joe ran down Styles ruthlessly, before explaining how he would put him to sleep and capture his WWE crown at SummerSlam. AJ will have the chance to respond when he returns to SmackDown next week, and it’d be smart for Joe to be absent from said episode, allowing for a big confrontation on the final SD before SummerSlam (did anyone notice the irony that, this week, it was Brock Lesnar that appeared on television with AJ Styles being the MIA titleholder?).

Jeff Hardy Calls Out Randy Orton

It was surprising to see two consecutive talking segments, but I was too busy wondering why Hardy (or anyone for that matter) goes from being backstage to entering the ring with the intention of calling out an enemy, when they simply could have hunted them down in the locker room where they had been in the first place. Anyway, Jeff noted how he was still disappointed not to be the United States Championship (good continuity there) before firing off a challenger to Randy Orton. The Viper did indeed respond, but before he could strike, Shinsuke Nakamura ran in and caught Hardy with another deadly low blow. Randy actually stopped him hitting a Kinshasa, only to let him execute the move. Orton then took over, pounding Hardy with a DDT from the apron to the floor and ripping off his necklace, his chain and his T-shirt (he thankfully stopped there), before pouring water over Jeff’s head and rubbing the paint off his face.

Orton as a nasty heel is a vast improvement over him being a bland babyface, and since his return at Extreme Rules, he has breathed new life into his career, becoming more sadistic than he has been for a long time. The dynamic between him and Nakamura is an interesting one; are the two in cahoots, or do they simply both want to rid WWE of Jeff? It’s too soon for Shinsuke to turn back face, so one has to assume that unless Jeff gets some back-up (and he has been getting brutalised for weeks now with nobody making the save), we’ll be seeing a three-way for the U.S. crown at SummerSlam. The only downside to all this is how fans still chant for an RKO, even when they are otherwise booing Randy for his violent assaults on Hardy, though Randy is cleverly refusing to give them what they want. It’s the Mick Foley philosophy of not giving the people what they came to see when you’re playing a heel; it should be intriguing to see how this translates to an actual match when Jeff and Randy (and presumably Shinsuke too) go to battle, probably at SummerSlam.

Lana vs. Zelina Vega

Set up over the weekend on social media, this match didn’t last too long, and it was a back-drop for the ongoing issues with the Rusev Day trio (I guess?). Andrade “Cien” Almas tried to intervene on Vega’s behalf with Aiden English making the save, only to once again distract Lana and cause her to lose via a roll-up to Zelina (in a finish that one could call the second Aiden ran down the aisle). Backstage, more bickering occurred between English and Lana, with Aiden humorously running away when Rusev came on the warpath. One thing to note here: Lana is going in and out of her Russian accent so much, and yet nobody has said anything on the air about it. If she is now, erm, American, it’s best to just abandon the Russian twang altogether rather than mixing and matching the two accents.

Daniel Bryan-The Miz Segment

Following on from last week, where The Miz threw a baby doll at Daniel Bryan allowing him to leave him laying, Bryan came out here for his response. As expected, he made the challenge to Miz for a match at SummerSlam, but Miz wasn’t even in the arena, instead appearing via satellite at a press event for Miz & Mrs, and he turned him down flat (hey, doesn’t Bryan still have enough stroke to make the match happen anyway?). From there, the two fired off major insults, with Daniel again calling Miz “soft” in terms of his ring style and calling him a “coward”, and basically saying that his career doesn’t amount to much at all. Miz responded by telling Bryan to just let his contract expire so that he can go back to wrestling in high school gyms (with All In being a month away, and having some momentum behind it, the odds of WWE willingly allowing this to happen are 0% at present). Miz ended by showing clips of babies crying, and telling Daniel that this footage was an appropriate representation of him. The plot thickens in what is WWE’s most compelling rivalry at present, providing the perfect mix of real-life and kayfabe fantasy that I had mentioned earlier on.

Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair

On paper, the champion was at a mismatch here, but don’t forget (and Carmella certainly won’t let you forget) that she beat Flair twice before, so it was actually Charlotte going into this one looking to break a losing streak, so to speak. With James Ellsworth now fired again, and with The IIconics being April’s news in WWE’s minds, it was up to Carmella herself to try and back up what she had said at the start of the night, and use her wrestling skills to achieve the victory on her own. It didn’t quite happen, though, and after attempting to go for the Figure-Four Leglock, Charlotte rolled out of it expertly to lock in the Figure-Eight, resulting in the quick submission victory. Charlotte is now a part of the SmackDown Women’s Championship match at SummerSlam, and crucially (which the announcers emphasised as the show went off the air), Becky Lynch – who had been backstage watching the bout – did not look happy at all. As in, she looked furious. Is this a way to push another obstacle in her way, or are the seeds being planted for the Irish Lass-Kicker to go to the dark side? We shall see.

As you can probably tell, this week’s SmackDown was mainly about the talking, and the verbal segments/angles were largely a success. Samoa Joe is an ice-cold killer, Randy Orton is also out of his mind with his increasingly-ruthless attacks on Jeff Hardy, and Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz is coming across as a major feud within the proverbial WWE Universe. In the ring, I enjoyed The Usos vs. The Bar, but I was expecting slightly more from a match that received plenty of time on the show. Either way, though, this was another fine episode from the blue brand, and with The New Day vs. The Bar, along with AJ Styles’ retort to Samoa Joe and the likely match-making for Bryan vs. Miz and Hardy vs. Orton (vs. Nakamura) for SummerSlam, next week’s edition should be a fun one to check out too.