Written By: Mark Armstrong
(Read the original version on Pro Wrestling Journal at http://prowrestlingjournal.com/index.php/2018/07/18/wwe-smackdown-review-analysis-07-17-2018/.)
Coming off an up-and-down Extreme Rules, the WWE cycle is such that there is very little time for reflection. Instead, the focus automatically shifts to the next ride on the journey, and right now that is SummerSlam. Ergo, this edition of SmackDown was expected to lay the groundwork for the summer’s biggest PPV, and so it proved.
Jeff Hardy Promo
There wasn’t much to this opening interview from Hardy, to be honest. Jeff referenced his quick-fire United States Championship loss to Shinsuke Nakamura at Extreme Rules (where Shinsuke low-blowed Hardy right before the bell and hit a Kinshasa once the match was under way to win almost immediately), but strangely enough, not the post-match kick to the groin by a returning Randy Orton (which the opening video to SmackDown DID show). Instead, Hardy noted his disappointment at losing the title, and vowed to regain it from Nakamura in the main event. The way this promo ended suggested that we were about to get an interruption, but it didn’t happen (Shinsuke did reply later on in a backstage interview, where he humorously called Jeff a “sad clown”, and randomly said “God bless America”; Nakamura is such a great heel right now). As for Randy Orton? More on him later.
AJ Styles vs. Andrade “Cien” Almas
This pairing reminded me of the older days, where the reigning champion would face a popular act in a one-off, competitive television match that would showcase the younger performer, but with the spotlight and the momentum remaining with the titleholder. That definitely was the case here, and it was a damn good match between the blue brand’s biggest name and one of WWE’s hottest rising stars (when he is given a long-term storyline to work with, anyway).
Almas held his own against Styles all the way, and there were some very close calls where one believed, momentarily at least, that Almas might just score an upset win which could have earned him a WWE Title opportunity. In particular, a good portion of the crowd were convinced that Almas had the match won with his running knee attack into the corner. Ultimately, though, AJ held on long enough to lock Andrade in the Calf Crusher for the submission victory. The back-and-forth manner of this match meant that Almas wasn’t harmed at all by losing here, and elevated his standing amongst the SD fans that may not have watched him on NXT (and despite what some may tell you, the NXT audience remains smaller than that of Raw and SmackDown). Fun stuff.
Backstage, Aiden English felt ashamed that he had played a hand in Rusev losing to AJ Styles at Extreme Rules, albeit indirectly (he had undone a turnbuckle pad, only for the King Of Rusev Day to be the one that would inadvertEntly collide with the exposed steel), and explained as such to Lana; however, Lana (who was flip-flopping in and out of her Russian accent) noted that Rusev was the man who Aiden had to speak to, and the debate was whether Rusev would be better off without English. Food for thought for Aiden, though we’ll have to wait another week to see if this goes anywhere.
Becky Lynch vs. Mandy Rose
Over the last few weeks, it’s been clear that Becky Lynch has been back on the rise with several strong, convincing victories. Therefore, the result of this enjoyable match seemed inevitable, and so it proved; despite the presence of Sonya Deville at ringside, Mandy wasn’t able to find a way past Lynch, who made the blonde bombshell submit to the Dis-Arm-Her. Post-match, Becky challenged Carmella to a match for the SmackDown Women’s Championship, a statement which was backed up by Paige shortly afterwards, who told Carmella that the two would face off next week, with Becky earning a title match at SummerSlam if she wins. Looks like Asuka is out of the picture now; you don’t need me to tell you that Asuka’s momentum has been totally ruined since her first defeat to Charlotte at WrestleMania 34. At this point, I would sooner see Asuka challenge Shayna Baszler to try and regain her NXT Women’s Championship than to continue floundering on the main roster through no fault of her own.
Samoa Joe vs. Tye Dillinger
This was set up by a pre-show beatdown of Dillinger by Joe last week. Tye went into this match with a chip on his shoulder (he had a backstage segment with R-Truth where he told Truth that he didn’t want to listen to his pre-match advice because he knew the task required of him, only to reveal that Truth was in the midst of a call on his headphones, which was funny), and started pretty strong against Joe, assaulting him at ringside and showing more aggression than usual. But it didn’t last long, as Joe knocked Dillinger down to size and finished him off with the Coquina Clutch (the third submission finish in as many matches). His decisive win here, coupled with the news that Paige will reveal AJ Styles’ next challenger on next week’s show, leads me to conclude that we’re getting Styles vs. Joe for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam.
Eulogy For Team Hell No
Only The Miz would have the gall to hold a eulogy for a tag team after they lost on a PPV due to one of the members suffering a broken foot (a card where Miz himself didn’t have a match). But that’s the beauty of Miz’s character: using normal logic, he’s a buffoon, but in his mind, he’s absolutely right to feel the way that he does. Not least because it was less about honouring the “memory” of Team Hell No, and more about stirring the pot once more by informing Daniel Bryan that his return has been a “bust” so far. Of course, that didn’t sit well with Bryan, who ran down and attacked Miz. The pall bearers (not Paul Bearers) intervened, but Bryan took them out, and drilled one of them (who will probably end up being a World Champion in six years’ time) with a running knee. With Big Cass gone and the issue with the Bludgeon Brothers settled, and with Kane on Mayoral campaigning duties again, we’re officially on the road to Bryan vs. Miz, which seems to now be a lock for SummerSlam.
Kofi Kingston vs. Eric Young
This followed up the six-man Tables match between The New Day and Sanity, won by the heels, on the Extreme Rules Kick-Off Show. They didn’t receive a lot of time here (both factions have fairly long entrances, meaning that we only got a brief glimpse of the bout before we went to commercial), but they made the most of it by showing the chemistry that exists between each other (which bodes well if this is going to be a long-running feud). Of course, with the other members of their respective stables at ringside, shenanigans were guaranteed, and after Kingston hit a Trust Dive onto Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe at ringside, Big E and Xavier Woods scrapped with Dan and Wolfe to try and keep things one-on-one. That was a detriment, though, as it caught the referee’s attention long enough for him to miss Dain shoving Woods into Kingston, which led to Young polishing Kofi off with a wheelbarrow neckbreaker.
United States Championship Match
Shinsuke Nakamura (C) vs. Jeff Hardy
Having been prevented from happening once due to a police dog bite, and with their PPV encounter being more of an angle than a match, finally we were getting a full clash between Nakamura and Hardy for the United States crown here. These two men were given plenty of time (especially compared to their Extreme Rules bout), and they made the most of it. Shinsuke, in particular, demonstrated once again why he is so much more effective as a heel than he was as a babyface. An attempted low blow early on paved the way for a series of knee attacks throughout the match, including a brutal-looking strike to the back of the head.
Of course, Hardy would mount a comeback, and eventually nailed Shinsuke with a Twist Of Fate/Swanton Bomb combo. It really did look like Jeff was about to regain his U.S. Title, but as the referee counted two, Hardy was dragged out of the ring by Randy Orton, resulting in a disqualification win for the challenger. Nakamura escaped with his title, but the bigger story was to come.
Indeed, Orton brutally pounded Jeff at ringside, ramming the back of his head into the steel stairs and stomping into his mid-section again. After barking at him “Do you want to know why” (actually Hardy apparently didn’t since he never mentioned Randy in his opening promo), Orton even tore at Jeff’s pierced ear and pulled the skin back, before hurling him over the announcers table and DDT’ing him to the floor. In the meantime, Randy was wondering aloud where Shinsuke was, though he had already left with a concerned expression on his face.
In case you didn’t realise it, Orton is now a heel again, which is the best use for him at a time when the blue brand has plenty of babyfaces. His return at Extreme Rules and this prolonged beatdown make it easy for fans to boo him, and his rediscovered vicious side has helped to revitalise a desperately flagging character, which may lead him to challenging for the WWE Championship towards the end of the year. It was also wise that Randy hasn’t used the RKO since returning, given that his biggest move generally receives a big pop.
I really enjoyed this episode. Unlike Raw, the show breezed by (which is often the case, but especially so this week), and it laid the foundations nicely for some major SummerSlam matches without explicitly stating that they would happen. In addition, there is the question of Randy Orton: is he aligned with Shinsuke Nakamura, or is he once again suffering from symptoms of IED which have led to his violent attacks on Jeff Hardy? Add to that the vacancies for challengers to several titles right now, and other lower-card feuds of interest, and SmackDown is in a good place right now. Though the brand is continuously made to look like the B-Team (no pun intended) on PPV cards, week-by-week it is definitely more consistent, logical and entertaining than Raw, and this looks set to continue with the build to SummerSlam officially under way.