Written By: Mark Armstrong
(Read the original version on Pro Wrestling Journal at http://prowrestlingjournal.com/index.php/2018/05/16/wwe-smackdown-review-analysis-05-15-2018/.)
The announcement of an AJ Styles-Shinsuke Nakamura non-title match with implications for their next WWE Championship encounter at Money In The Bank (whomever triumphed would pick the stipulation for their June 17 clash), the intrigue as to what direction Daniel Bryan heads in following his loss to Rusev last week, ongoing MITB qualifiers and the main roster debut of Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas all suggested that tonight’s SmackDown in London would be well worth watching. Let’s find out if this was the case!
Daniel Bryan Interview
The show opened with Renee Young interviewing Daniel Bryan, or at least trying to in front of a London crowd who couldn’t stop chanting Bryan’s name. Daniel noted that he was no longer happy to just be back competing again; he wanted to aim higher than that, i.e. regaining the WWE Championship that he never lost back in 2014 (this predated the Intercontinental Championship that he had to vacate in 2015 following what was assumed to be his retirement; incidentally, his previous “last match” took place in this very venue, London’s O2 Arena).
Cure Big Cass, who decided to take the credit for Bryan’s loss to Rusev in a MITB qualifier last week. Repeatedly telling Bryan that he was a loser, Cass used mocking “Yes!” chants to drive his skewed points home. This angered Bryan enough to go after Cass and, after targeting his huge left leg, Daniel lo0cked on ab heel hook which Cass tapped out to. The Bryan-Cass feud rolls on, presumably with them battling again on June 17.
Money In The Bank Qualifier
The New Day vs. The Bar
The winner of this match would earn a spot in the men’s MITB match for a member of their team, either New Day or The Bar. The Miz came out to commentate for this match; Kofi Kingston was the New Day member chosen to remain ringside. Though Cesaro was the legal man for the heels, Xavier Woods superkicked Sheamus off the apron to begin with, and after trading the advantage, he planted Sheamus with a senton bomb at ringside over the ropes. But some double-team offence got The Bar back in control, with Sheamus tagging in and, oddly, wrestling in a T-shirt for some unknown reason during the first half of the bout. After a commercial, Sheamus was sans shirt in a scene straight out of WWE 2K18.
Anyway, Woods was finally able to bounce back and tag in Big E, who took Sheamus to his version of Suplex City upon tagging in. A double-DDT by The Bar only garnered a two-count, and a slightly botched Sharpshooter by Cesaro wasn’t able to get the win either after Woods broke the hold up. With Sheamus down at ringside, Xavier tagged in and almost scored the win with his jumping DDT through the ropes. Sheamus soon made it back in as the match broke down into a brawl via Big E’s huge spear through the ropes to Sheamus. Woods’ walking top rope elbow finished off Cesaro to earn New Day the win. A fun match here; the question is, which member of New Day will go onto the MITB Ladder match?
After another creepy Bludgeon Brothers promo, Paige had a chat with Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, where the SmackDown GM told her former Absolution friends that they would be facing Becky Lynch in a Triple Threat MITB qualifier later on tonight, and we heard some quick comments from AJ Styles on his main event clash with Shinsuke Nakamura. By the way, last time that WWE were in the UK, Styles shockingly captured the WWE Championship from Jinder Mahal; who imagined that his reign would still be ongoing by the time that the crew were back in England?
Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas vs. Jake Constantino
This was Almas’ much-anticipated bow on the main roster, following a hugely successful stint in NXT; speaking of which, Andrade’s NXT business manager Zelina Vega was once again at his side here. Given the hype for his arrival, his NXT Championship reign and his incredible in-ring form in the first few months of 2018 alone, it was impossible to envision Almas losing his SmackDown debut, especially against an unknown local competitor from London. Sure enough, despite one dropkick from Jake, it was a walkover for Almas, who quickly gained his first win on the blue brand with a Hammerlock DDT.
Post-match, Vega claimed that Almas’ opposition wasn’t suitable enough, and that she and Almas would take over SmackDown.
Backstage, Aiden English set up a special room for Rusev. In between jokes at the expense of the UK, Aiden English was going to serenade Rusev, only for Lana to interrupt and announced her own MITB qualifier against Billie Kay next week, vowing that she and Rusev could eventually win both of their MITB Ladder bouts.
The Royal Mellabration
Carmella was celebrating UK-style for, erm, beating Charlotte Flair at Backlash, I guess? She’d already had a Mellabration for her SmackDown Women’s Championship victory, after all. Speaking of which, if you watched her previous Mellabration segment from four weeks ago, and if you’ve watched any UK-themed heel segment from down the years on WWE television, then there isn’t much else to add here. After sufficient bragging by Carmella (who was sporting enormous earrings), she was interrupted by Paige, who announced that Carmella would defend her crown at Money In The Bank against … Asuka! A title change seems likely. (Actually, if Asuka loses that match having previously been undefeated for so long, her career may become irreparably damaged.) The Royal Mellabration was suddenly over, just like that. Poor Carmella!
Oh, and there was this exchange on commentary: Tom Phillips: “The woman with a 914-day undefeated streak is going for the SmackDown Women’s Title.” Corey Graves: “Asuka lost!”
Backstage, Renee Young interviewed Shinsuke Nakamura, who initially feigned another lack of understanding of English, though he then did offer a real response after weeks of dodging almost every opportunity to speak, and of course he vowed to defeat AJ Styles.
Money In The Bank Qualifier
Becky Lynch vs. Sonya Deville vs. Mandy Rose
Mandy still has that blur-effect entrance from last week. Random thought: as this match began, Tom Phillips plugged SmackDown next week in Worcester, Massachusetts, and noted that by then, we will know who else will join the women’s MITB match, even though we’d know in, say, 10 minutes time rather than having to wait a full week. WWE often has the announcers make daft statements like this. The question is simply: why?
Oh, back to the match. It was very similar in structure to Bayley-Alexa-Mickie from Raw last night, including the heels beginning to show cracks in their friendship, with Rose even rolling up Deville for an attempted cover. As the match progressed, Deville made Rose feel her wrath with a hard strike, meaning that Absolution presumably now hangs by a thread. Sonya looked the favourite to win the match at this point, but after Rose had temporarily and accidentally KO’d Deville, Lynch trapped Mandy in the Dis-Arm-Her for the submission victory.
It was announced that Samoa Joe and Big Cass would meet next week in a MITB qualifier (Joe called Cass a “fake tough guy” which made me laugh), as would Lana and Billie Kay as mentioned earlier.
Winner Decides The Stipulation At Money In The Bank
AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Though Shinsuke changed his theme to make it less appropriate for crowd participation, fans in London chanted along anyway as if it were the previous entrance tune. It felt strange (though it wasn’t a bad thing by any means) that the bout once-ballyhooed as a WWE dream match is now happening on free television, even if it is the fourth televised scrap of their feud. Speaking of which, having them face off here indicates that their Money In The Bank battle really will be the finale of their rivalry, at which point I can see AJ going into a feud with Samoa Joe (since I believe Styles will remain WWE Champion beyond MITB). But enough with the predictions: let’s get back to tonight’s main event.
After some early technical exchanges amidst duelling chants, Styles caught Nakamura hard with a high dropkick and a backbreaker to further slow down Shinsuke. He hit a flying punch to ringside as well, but Nakamura blocked an AJ sliding knee from the apron with a kick to AJ’s knee, and his signature knee to the back of his opponent’s neck. Nakamura pounded Styles with hard kicks around the ring to maintain control, as well as Bad Vibrations (formerly Good Vibrations, akin to when the People’s Elbow became the Corporate Elbow after The Rock’s heel turn in late 1998). AJ blocked an exploder suplex, only to taste a devastating flying kick by Nakamura.
As the duelling chants continued (perhaps some fans weren’t aware that Shinsuke is now a heel, wink wink), Nakamura locked in a dragon sleeper to weaken AJ further. Nakamura then looked to hit a top rope suplex, but was eventually hit with a Pele Kick off the top strand by Styles. From there, AJ began hitting his signature strikes to mount a comeback; however, Nakamura rolled out of an attempted Calf Crusher, and caught Styles with a Landslide for a two-count. Shinsuke also caught AJ with a kick to the legs as Styles looked to launch himself for a Phenomenal Forearm, followed by a high knee to the ribs. A hard boot to the face on the apron led to a flying knee by Nakamura for another close two-count. Shinsuke prepared for a Kinshasa, which AJ rolled through into an attempted Styles Clash, which Nakamura rolled out of; an Ushi Goroshi then claimed two for AJ. Nakamura used his feet to block another sliding forearm, followed by a version of a Kinshasa, which AJ surprisingly kicked out of.
An AJ spinning heel kick blocked a second Kinshasa, but as AJ went for a Phenomenal Forearm, he almost caught the referee. In the mix-up, Nakamura distracted AJ by feigning that he’d taken a low blow from Styles. As AJ pleaded his innocence to the referee, Shinsuke caught him with an exploder suplex and a Kinshasa to finally claim a televised victory in WWE over Styles, bringing an end to a thrilling main event. As for the stipulation at Money In The Bank: looks like we’ll have to wait until next week to find that out. Huh.
Overall, I thought SmackDown was a fun show. With Greatest Royal Rumble and Backlash out of the way, the relatively new-look SmackDown roster is finally beginning to come together, and bear in mind that Jeff Hardy, Shelton Benjamin, The Usos and Naomi were all absent tonight (Randy Orton missed TV for the second straight week; since he hasn’t been announced for a MITB qualifier, it may be a little while before we see him on Tuesday nights again). It was similar to last night’s Raw in that, aside from the main event and a strong showing by Bryan in the opening segment, there wasn’t anything that you needed to see here. But it was entertaining enough, and it’s a promising sign that SmackDown may be heading into a positive direction once again.