After last week's episode set the stage for Smackdown Live going forward, the 885th edition of the show looked to build on that. With Dolph Ziggler putting his Number One Contender-ship to Dean Ambrose's World Championship on the line against Bray Wyatt in the main event, an Intercontinental title #1 Contender's Three Way, the WWE debut of American Alpha and appearances from John Cena, AJ Styles, Randy Orton and RAW superstar Brock Lesnar, this was going to be a jamboree of sports entertainment, right?
For me, the headline segment on the show was AJ Styles calling out John Cena, which would eventually lead to a rematch between the two being made for the upcoming SummerSlam special. Both lads were on top form here, presenting themselves as the antithesis of each other and running with that idea. Styles in particular impressed in what is arguably his strongest WWE promo to date, ripping into Cena's fanbase, insulting children and their parents at ringside. However, it was when AJ revealed that he was purposefully attempting to get Cena wound up, so that he could lay down the challenge for SummerSlam that "The Phenomenal One" came into his own. He oozed arrogance and upped his cockiness level to eleven, and basically he came across like a bit of dick. Cena's performance was equally strong, although it took a while for him to find his groove after initially seeming to be using that jokey cadence and slipping into his weird thug life accent. He'd recover well and produce a passionate promo about his connection with his fans and the company. I feel like there's still plenty to explore in this rivalry, which is kind of why I'm glad that this didn't descend into a bit of a scrap.
The show's main event was Dolph Ziggler retaining his SummerSlam title shot with a victory over Bray Wyatt in a sound TV bout. The match was all about cementing Ziggler as a challenger for Dean Ambrose's belt after The Show-Off had won a six-pack challenge last week. With that in mind, Wyatt deserves a lot of credit for how hard he worked to make Ziggler look like a world beater at points, feeding and bumping beautifully throughout for the former World Heavyweight Champion's comeback. A cool sequence of near falls was included towards the tail end of the bout, included a great false finish when Ziggler took advantage of The Eater of Worlds attempting to remove a turnbuckle pad and nailing a Zig Zag for two. That turnbuckle pad would return later in the fight, with Ziggler removing it himself, later sending Wyatt head first into the metal buckle and closing the match with a superkick. Whether this signals a heel turn for Ziggler, we'll have to wait to find out as he found himself being attacked by Erick Rowan, with the show ending with the remaining members of the Wyatt Family beating down the two parts of SummerSlam's World title match. This would supposedly set up a tag bout on next week's episode.
The main event was, in fact, set up in the show's opening segment, although Wyatt's attack on Ziggler and subsequent challenge wasn't really the focal point. That was a smashing back and forth promo situation between Ambrose and Ziggler, that had more than a few similarities to a segment from this week's RAW involving Finn Balor and Seth Rollins. It was essentially both guys comparing their past achievements and struggles, taking on a much more complex direction than the Monday night segment. Ziggler's promo seemed to be fueled from a very real place as he bought a tonne of passion, talking about debuting in the Spirit Squad (he neglected to mention his time as Kerwin White's caddy) and various other hardships he's faced during his WWE tenure. Ambrose on the other hand was dealing out more shades of grey than E.L. James, running down Zig Zag for moaning and worrying too much about what other people think, including the fans. He definitely wasn't the upbeat and excitable, slightly irreverent chap we've been seeing over the last six months or so. With both men looking like they might turn at any moment, the run up to SummerSlam should be must-watch TV on Smackdown Live.
Apollo Crews earned a shot at the Intercontinental Championship with a victory over Kalisto and Baron Corbin, in an odd three way contest. There was some sweet sequences, especially the one that sent the show into the break, where Corbin would pull the top rope down to send Crews crashing to the outside, before Kalisto hit a tasty suicide dive onto the Lone Wolf. However, the ending seemed to come out of nowhere and didn't really do much for anyone involved, as Crews rolled up Kalisto after Corbin was sent to the outside with a dropkick (whilst attempting to powerbomb Kalisto). It's another case of a challenger for The Miz's title not quite looking like a legitimate challenge, after Darren Young won a battle royal by accident last month. The aftermath was even more of a mess, with Corbin attacking Kalisto, Crews making the save, Miz (who was on commentary with Maryse) hitting the Skull Crushing Finale on Crews and then Corbin hitting End of Days on Miz. A big old clusterfuck with little sense of direction.
After Randy Orton's attack on Brock Lesnar the previous night, we'd get more brand hoping on Smackdown as despite security surrounding the ring, Lesnar was able to hit an F5 on his SummerSlam opponent, giving The Viper a DQ victory over Fandango. I swear that the Nashville crowd was more into the Orton v Fandango match than anything else on the show, buzzing off Fandango looking them and hailing him with boos. Having the pair jump across the two shows has bought a different kind of feel to the episodes (although obviously not as exciting as if the brands had been separate for more than a week), although I'd have preferred to see Lesnar have to actualyl fight off some of the security guards to get at Orton. If the guards weren't going to stop Lesnar, they might have well as not actually been there, as their presence added a few extra signposts to The Beast turning up and returning the favour
Jason Jordan & Chad Gable, American Alpha, made their Smackdown Live debuts with a swift victory over The Vaudevillains, in what was surprisingly their first win on TV since May. This is a difficult one to review, because it was a brilliant first night for Jordan & Gable, showcasing their style, their pace and power and a number of their regular NXT spots, but it also saw a talented team lose to newcomers in just over three minutes. As much as I commend the strong booking of American Alpha and the way the match was put together to allow them to be introduced to a whole new audience, I think it's a shame that The Vaudevillains had to put them over so swiftly, especially considering just how over they were as heels during the first two or three months of their WWE call-up. This could have been a much bigger and better match later this year if both teams were handled correctly!
The women's division took a bit of a backseat this week, with a couple of segments being used to introduce or develop characters and stories, which I'd much prefer to a couple of meaningless matches for the ladies. Eva Marie's ridiculously over the top entrance for her match with Becky Lynch was proceeded by Marie holding her calf and being announced as unable to complete. Natalya attacked Carmella before The Hottest Chick in the Ring could even get into the ring, locking on the Sharpshooter on the ramp. In other news, Heath Slater would convince Daniel Bryan to give him a shot at a Smackdown Live contract next week show, before being swiftly gored by his opponent in that upcoming match, Rhyno.
Triple Threat Match for Intercontinental Title #1 Contender-ship: Apollo Crews def. Baron Corbin and Kalisto in 6 minutes, 47 seconds.
Tag Team Match: American Alpha - Chad Gable & Jason Jordan def. The Vaudevillains - Aiden English & Simon Gotch in 3 minutes, 27 seconds.
Singles Match: Randy Orton def. Fandango by DQ in 3 minutes, 4 seconds.
Singles Match for World Title #1 Contender-ship: Dolph Ziggler def. Bray Wyatt in 11 minutes, 34 seconds.
ATPW Scale Rating - 5.83/10
A much improved edition of Smackdown this week, as the show seemed to be settling into it's grove. The top of the card was particularly strong with John Cena, AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler and Bray Wyatt all putting in strong and rather different performances on the microphone as stories progressed, with Ziggler and Wyatt putting on a good main event with a reason for the viewer to stick around. Brock Lesnar's attack on Randy Orton wasn't as spectacular as the previous evening, but anything with those guys is still going to be entertaining TV. Not a single segment went over 15 minutes and this gave the show a brilliant pace, with nothing staying long enough to outstay it's welcome or begin to drag the show.
There's certainly room for improvement and if the even-steven booking continues, (most notable example of this being the nutty Intercontinental title bit) the show will become frustrating to watch quickly, but as everyone begins to find their place on the card and storylines begin to become clearer and more heated Smackdown Live looks like it should move from strength to strength.
All content by James Marston (@IAmNotAlanDale)
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