Written By: Mark Armstrong
(Read the original version on Pro Wrestling Journal at http://prowrestlingjournal.com/index.php/2018/10/31/wwe-smackdown-review-analysis-10-30-2018/.)
You’ve probably read enough articles about Crown Jewel already, so I’ll simply say here that this episode of SmackDown was largely designed to provide the final push towards CJ, as well as laying the foundations for Survivor Series (which is less than three weeks away, amazingly enough).
AJ Styles-Daniel Bryan Promo
AJ Styles came out, and got a long, sustained reaction from his home state fans in Atlanta. Styles suggested that Daniel Bryan should join him in the ring as they discuss their recent miscommunication during tag bouts against The Usos. Bryan obliged, but AJ surprisingly noted that he had intentionally struck Daniel the week prior, in reaction to a previous accidental blow from DB. Bryan responded by saying he would like to hit AJ now on purpose, and the two both suggested having their Crown Jewel match for the WWE Championship right here on SD. Normally, this doesn’t go anywhere, but because he was feeling generous (wink, wink), Shane McMahon decided that the WWE Title match would indeed happen in Atlanta, and starting right now!
WWE Championship Match
AJ Styles (C) vs. Daniel Bryan
So, because AJ and Daniel didn’t want to wait until Friday to battle (or to put it another way, Bryan didn’t want to travel to Saudi Arabia for completely understandable reasons), we were getting one of the Saudi show’s main events here. And we were treated to a PPV-quality match between two of WWE’s very best performers. It started slow, with the tide turning in AJ’s favour when Bryan struck him with a tope but landed hard on his left knee. This gave Styles the opening to target Bryan’s bad wheel, and it would be the focus of the match from that point on. It felt strange to hear Bryan booed, even if he was facing a local hero in the form of AJ, but it didn’t stop him fighting back and mounting a strong comeback. It was a cringe-worthy moment when Bryan just about caught Styles with a top rope hurricanrana, and the challenger had AJ in trouble with the Yes Lock. But Styles fought out, rising to his feet and masterfully turning it into a Styles Clash, followed by a Calf Crusher for the tap-out win.
Considering it was being held on free television, this was a damn good match, the best on SmackDown for a good long while, as well as probably being Bryan’s best bout since his comeback from injury. Under the circumstances, there was no way that Daniel was winning (he wasn’t going to capture the title and then defend it in Saudi Arabia), which slightly negated the drama, but at the same time, AJ is closing in on a full year as WWE Champion, meaning that fans really want him to at least reach that milestone. I still hope that we get another match between the two at some point, since this seemed to draw a line under their mini-feud. It makes me wonder where the WWE Championship goes from here: assuming that it’s Universal Champ vs. WWE Champ again at Survivor Series, AJ should go well into his second year as titleholder, probably until Royal Rumble at least (by which point he will have surpassed CM Punk’s 2011-2013 WWE Title reign, which you know the company wants AJ to do).
But who dethrones him, and what will be the WWE Title match at WrestleMania 35 (since I had assumed for a while that it would be AJ vs. Bryan in MetLife Stadium)? Randy Orton’s heel character has lost some steam in recent weeks, but he’d still be a strong challenger to Styles, even if few want him to win yet another World Championship. The Miz has been itching to re-enter the title picture for years now, but if Miz is in a co-main event at Mania, would it feel like 2011 all over again? Jeff Hardy and Rey Mysterio would be good opponents for AJ, though I can’t see either dethroning him. My best guess at this point is that either Orton or Miz will be on the heel side against AJ at Mania, or possibly Miz capturing the title and defending it against Bryan (to end their feud and to finally return the gold to Bryan on the biggest stage of all). It’s fascinating to think about, and since we’re less than three months from Royal Rumble now, it isn’t unreasonable to start speculating about WM 35.
Back to this edition of SmackDown: after their match, Bryan and AJ sportingly shook hands, but were then both attacked by Samoa Joe, who trapped Styles in the Coquina Clutch. It was later confirmed (partly from an angry AJ demanding as much from Paige) that it would be AJ vs. Joe at Crown Jewel, with Joe also reminding us that he’s a creepy bastard with his mind on Styles’ family. Spoiler alert: AJ is retaining at CJ (since Joe has already been and gone as a serious threat to Styles’, erm, crown).
Trick Or Street Fight
Big E vs. Cesaro
Next up, we had the Halloween tradition of a Trick Or Street Fight. After cosplaying as 80s legends last year, here The New Day masqueraded as The Brood! Sheamus iced up his complexion (more than usual), but it was Cesaro who competed on behalf of The Bar, with Big Show also at ringside. The match was what you would expect from this stipulation: a mix of a real rivalry with some harmless Halloween-themed spots. As you may expect, there was interference from parties on both sides. Given their Brood attires, both Xavier Woods (who played Edge) and Big E (who was Gangrel) spat what Corey Graves described tongue-in-cheek as “a mysterious red liquid” into the eyes of Show and Cesaro respectively. The latter led to Big E (who seemed to be losing his pants during the match) claiming the three-count. Post-match, Kofi Kingston (who played Christian), while holding a skeleton, slipped as he came off the apron. That sentence is professional wrestling in a nutshell.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. R-Truth
With Tye Dillinger apparently injured due to Randy Orton’s actions, R-Truth replaced him here against Nakamura. Tom Phillips on commentary initially stated that this would be a title match, only to backtrack later on. This was exactly what you would expect, aside from an unexpected head-scissors manoeuvre by Truth. We had the mandatory dance break, and both men making fun of the other’s dance moves. Nakamura sealed the win with a Kinshasa, as the announcers reminded us that the Intercontinental and United States Champions will meet at Survivor Series. As awesome as Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura would be, the fact that they didn’t identify either titleholder by name during this confab (compared to them outright stating that Ronda and Becky will meet at Survivors) tells me that at least one, if not both, of them will lose their gold before then, possibly in the UK next week.
Becky Lynch Promo
After defeating Charlotte Flair in their Last Woman Standing match at Evolution, Becky Lynch came out to brag about her victory, and also to talk down Ronda Rousey, her opponent at Survivor Series as the two Women’s Champions collide. I have to point out that WWE is risking having Ronda booed out of the building at Survivors, not because of any shortcomings that she has (she has come on as an in-ring performer so much since debuting at WrestleMania 34) but because Becky is as popular as anybody in the company right now, in spite of her heel status. So, it will be interesting to see how WWE handles this situation. I should also mention that besides this, and Paige asking Charlotte earlier in the night to captain the SmackDown women’s team against Raw’s females at Survivors, we didn’t get any fall-out whatsoever from Evolution.
Jeff Hardy & Rey Mysterio vs. Randy Orton & The Miz
I saw plenty of jokes on social media about this being a time-machine transportation from 2008. That aside, this served its purpose of being a by-the-numbers main event as a final push for Crown Jewel. Other than Rey and Hardy changing places to deliver Poetry In Motion to Miz, there wasn’t much to say about the bout, which ended when Miz took a 619 followed by a Swanton Bomb for a babyface triumph. Afterwards, Orton RKO’d Hardy, and then caught a flying Rey in mid-air with another RKO. Then Miz tried to befriend Orton, only to taste an RKO himself. The implication is that Orton has the greatest chance of anybody at winning the WWE World Cup this Friday; Shane McMahon had earlier thrown in the caveat during a backstage discussion (during which Miz humorously called Hardy “the long-lost member of Insane Clown Posse” in our second nod to the Attitude Era of the night) that SmackDown could not be upstaged by Raw in the tournament, and if the SD finalist loses to the Raw finalist, they will be fired. In other words, the SmackDown wrestler out of the four who performs the best will be the one to lose their job if they lose the last match. That aside, this either guarantees a SD win, or it could set up the fired blue brand performer to move to Raw for Survivors (my guess is that, in this scenario, it would be Orton, given that Miz has unfinished business with Daniel Bryan, Jeff only moved to SD in April, and Rey only returned to WWE proper three weeks ago).
It helped that we were treated to AJ vs. Bryan three days early, because otherwise this would have been just another show, in spite of some good entertainment throughout the night. With that bout inserted, this was the best regular episode of SmackDown for a while, though I appreciate that circumstances meant this was probably a one-off. With AJ Styles about to reach one year as WWE Champion, and with SmackDown emanating next week from the same place that he won the title – Manchester Arena in Manchester, England – it could be a fun episode next Tuesday, especially if WWE decides to hold another championship bout in the UK (imagine the heat if The Miz steals the title from AJ one day before he’d celebrate a year with the gold). Plus, by then Crown Jewel will finally be in the rear-view mirror, and with Survivor Series on the horizon, it could be an intriguing few weeks on the blue brand.