Monday Night Raw this week premiered a ‘Wild Card’ gimmick, which affords superstars the freedom to switch brands on any given night.
It could be argued that this is a desperate ploy by Creative to halt a downturn in ratings at a time when the red brand, in particular, seems to be lacking direction. On the other hand, it does throw up the opportunity for fresh feuds and interesting storylines in the build up to Money in the Bank.
And that would be the focus on Tuesday night as Smackdown Live rolled into Louisville, Kentucky.
AJ Styles first ‘Wildcard’ over from Raw
Styles hit the the ring and alluded to the fact that Smackdown was the House that AJ Styles Built. He was interrupted by Sami Zayn, who followed Styles over from the red brand. Zayn is really excelling in his role as the antagonistic heel, and wasted little time in calling Styles out on his ‘toxic ego’.
New Day’s music hit and WWE Champion, Kofi Kingston, entered the fray with his stablemate Xavier Woods. Though the tandem provided the usual comic relief, there is also an intensity about Kingston since he got the strap at Wrestlemania, and he is clearly relishing the role of top babyface on Smackdown. He offered to put the title on the line to both Zayn and Styles. Though a decent exchange, it was the formulaic process seen all too often at the start of WWE programming to set up a match later in the night.
Ali vs. Andrade
This match was but a glimpse of the magic these two superstars could create if given more time and a proper build, and they will certainly be vital components in the MITB Ladder Match. The contest was stopped in its tracks by an untimely ad break, and just as Ali and Andrade were trading blows, Randy Orton hijacked the match and hit his patented RKO on both superstars, reminding them that the Viper won’t just be there to make up the numbers at Money in the Bank.
Daniel Bryan and Rowan vs. The Usos
Roman Reigns tenure in the WWE, from his debut through to his battle with leukaemia, was chronicled in a video package before Shane O’ Mac addressed the WWE Universe, hyping his upcoming Steel Cage match with The Miz, before announcing Bryan and Rowan as the new Smackdown Tag Team Champions, after the Hardys had to vacate. The Usostook exception to this announcement and the match was set between the two teams. The Usos were solid as usual, displaying the chemistry and energy which has been a staple of their matches. They took the fight to Rowan and Bryan, who themselves are showing signs of being a cohesive unit. The heels dominated the brothers at times, and the Usos hit a couple of superkicks and Jimmy hit the big splash for a near-fall on Rowan. The Usos threw everything at Bryan and Rowan, but the eco-friendly duo proved too much, with Rowan hitting the Iron Claw for the win. This was a really enjoyable TV match, and it was a smart move to give him the pin, putting him over as the monster he could have been in the Wyatt Family. His partnership with Bryan has real potential, and it will be interesting to see who they target next, though an extended feud with the Usos wouldn’t be too bad an idea either.
Shane McMahon tries to make MITB Announcement
Shane O’ Mac attempted to make an announcement about the upcoming PPV, but was interrupted by the Miz. The A-Lister proceeded to brawl with Shane up the ramp, until The B-Team got involved. Miz made short work of the duo, only for Shane to lay out the Miz with a chair to close the segment. This feud continues to be pushed, given ample spotlight, but it is all a bit repetitive at the moment, and a bit messy, with Shane also seemingly building towards a showdown with Roman Reigns. Miz as a babyface is fun though!
Carmella and Ember Moon vs. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville
The WWE Universe seemed a little flat and the length of match meant this never really got going. The babyface team of Carmella and Moon never really looked in sync, though Moon did manage to get in some offence on Rose. Deville saved Rose from Moon diving through the ropes and the Golden Goddess rolled Moon back into the ring, hit the Bed of Roses and took the win. Paige cut short the celebrations to announce Asuka and Kairi Sane would be taking on her former proteges next week.
Triple Threat Match for WWE Championship- Kofi Kingston vs. Sami Zayn vs. AJ Styles
This match was every bit as excellent as it promised to be, with the sheer quality of talent involved sure to elevate this main event. Zayn, after being dispatched early on, took control of the match, taking the fight to the faces. He looks really invigorated in his new role and could become a key heel on either brand in the coming months. He had a near-fall with a sit down powerbomb on Kingston, and then traded blows with Styles, with Kofi breaking up a pin-fall between the two. Zayn then hit an impressive superplex on the New Day member but was thwarted in his attempt at doing the same to The Phenomenal One. Kingston took out his two opponents with an SOS and then took advantage of the injured leg of Styles. So much so, that AJ was unable to hit the Phenomenal Forearm, and Kingston replied with a Pele kick. As the three superstars recovered, Kevin Owens attacked Xavier Woods at ringside, distracting Kingston enough for Zayn to produce a Blue Thunder Bomb to the champ. Kingston kicked out at the last moment, and also, incredibly, after a second and a third. KO looked on in disbelief as Kingston showed the resilience and fighting spirit that has become a feature of his title run. With Zayn frustrated, Kingston hit the Canadian native with a Trouble in Paradise to take the win and retain the title. It was a top quality match to round out a decent Smackdown. It also hinted at Zayn maybe playing a part in Kingston’s match with KO at MITB, and it also emphasised that the feelgood factor around Kofi being champion shows no signs of slowing down.