The last Smackdown Live before SummerSlam and we've got matches with John Cena, Randy Orton and World Champion Dean Ambrose, this was gonna be a great episode...right?
Yes siree, the main event of the evening was the TWELFTH collision between John Cena and Alberto Del Rio in everyone's favourite match-type the "forgone conclusion" match. ADR and Cena put on a decent contest, that had some nice near falls for ADR, especially off the same superkick that beat Cena back in October on ADR's return match, but the whole thing lacked any urgency, threat or most all importance. The hook of Cena facing the man that put him out of action in October, wasn't strong enough, and ADR's booking over the last few months meant it was very difficult to get invested in the action. This was not helped by the early portion of the match being more than a little sloppy, especially when it came to strikes, on behalf of both men. Cena would pick up the victory with an Attitude Adjustment, after surviving ADR's Cross Armbreaker.
The significant moment would come after the match, with AJ Styles rising from the commentary table to launch an attack on Cena. Styles cut a fierce promo on Cena that added that extra bit of spice that their SummerSlam clash needed. The conclusion of the segment and indeed the show was an intriguing one, as Cena would overcome The Phenomenal One hitting him with two Attitude Adjustments, one of which was through the announce table. Cena looked dominant after comeback from a sustained beatdown from Styles and a lengthy match with ADR and again this added an extra layer of drama to the 21st August clash between the two. After having Cena look so strong at the end of Smackdown Live, I'm wondering if Styles has to win at the supercard.
Randy Orton's contest was opposite Heath Slater, with The One Man Band picking up his first victory over The Viper at the fourth time of asking. Okay, so that win was by disqualification after about a minute, because Orton got carried away beating the shit into Slater, but a win is a win, right? As we build to Orton's match with Brock Lesnar on Sunday, it was a unique case of "Everything you can do, I can do better" as Orton tried to out Lesnar Lesnar's destruction of Slater on this week's RAW. For me, The Legend Killer was much better when he was doing his own thing, brawling on the outside and aggressively throwing Slater in the ring posts, as opposed to when he was hitting German suplexes, which both looked a little odd. The "15 Years in the Making" hype video for Orton v Lesnar at SummerSlam aired once again as well
Dolph Ziggler's rivalry with Dean Ambrose over the World Championship continued to try to find it's groove with an appearance from the pair on the show-opening Miz TV. Like the majority of this feud, the first six or seven minutes kind of plodded along and lacked any real direction with The Miz randomly getting involved at various points to compare Ziggler to Ghostbusters re-boot and Ambrose still looking to find what his role with this whole thing is, talking about Ziggler starring shit films or something. Where things did finally seem to click was when Ambrose put a point on his promo with the line "You've never wanted it bad enough and you're never going to get it" as the reply from Ziggler was superb, drawing the crowd in and making the upcoming match feel can't miss as he talked about Ambrose having to dig deep and scrap for everything on Sunday night. The Show Off brought the passion that made him so entertaining to watch when he initially fought his way to the top and the exclamation point of a superkick to Ambrose, finishing off his storytelling, should hopefully lead in a brilliant match on 21st August.
The World Champion was also in action on the episode, facing off with The Wyatt Family's Erick Rowan in a well-crafted TV bout. This contest was much better than I had expected it to be and I ended up getting quite into it, thanks to the psychology that the pair brought to it. After initially going straight for Dirty Deeds, Ambrose would use the bigger man's power against him, causing him to fall out of the ring and miss a big boot in the corner, it was simple but the two guys made it extremely watchable. The wacky line spot where Ambrose escaped a powerbomb from Rowan was perhaps the best use of Ambrose's pendulum clothesline I've seen. The finish could have been a bit slicker, but it gave The Lunatic Fringe his heat back after the superkick from Ziggler earlier in the night and allowed him to head into SummerSlam with some strong momentum. The angle that followed with Bray Wyatt appearing to walk out on Rowan was a thought-provoking development, that we'll most likely produce a strong upper mid-card bout from Smackdown Live's first solo PPV, Backlash on 11th September.
A twelve man tag team bout, with American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan), The Usos (Jey Uso & Jimmy Uso) and The Hype Bros (Mojo Rawley & Zack Ryder) going over The Vaudevillains (Aiden English & Simon Gotch), The Ascension (Konnor & Viktor) and Breezango (Tyler Breeze & Fandango), was a fun showcase of Smackdown Live's tag division, that seemed to plant the seeds for a couple of future tag feuds. The interaction between The Usos and American Alpha has to be the most captivating of any of those, as those two teams could steal a show some day, especially if Jimmy & Jey were turned heel. The conflict came thick and fast with a couple of sequences that saw everyone get involved, en route to Gable getting the pin on Gotch after he and Jordan had nailed Grand Amplitude.
Just like the tag team scene, Smackdown Live's Women's division seems to be having to squeeze an awful lot into a minimal amount of time. That might be a negative in some aspects, but it does mean that every woman on the roster is getting the chance to showcase themselves in some way or another and once things settle no one can argue that they haven't had the opportunity. This week's women's bout had a number of storylines to play with as Natalya teamed with Alexa Bliss in a losing effort to Becky Lynch and Carmella. The wrestling content was fine from the four, but the clash was all about the finish, as Eva Marie finally arrived in the building, got chased around the ring by Naomi, causing the distraction that would eventually lead to Lynch out-wrestling Natalya and gaining a submission victory with the Disarmer. There's six women fighting for time on the brand at the moment, I feel like the week's following SummerSlam and heading towards Backlash we'll get to see who deserves that time most.
ATPW Scale Rating - 5.29/10
A slight victory for Smackdown Live this week over Monday Night RAW (2-2, if you're keeping track) although that's mainly down to not having much deadweight (maybe down to having an hour less time to fill) than having anything that was especially good. Just like the World title feud, the show is still attempting to find it's feet and to work out the best way to showcase it's wrestlers and build towards multiple PPVs. The match booking could do with a bit more excitement and tension, Alberto Del Rio coming out of nowhere to main event two week's in a row meant that those matches were difficult to buy into, especially against top guys like John Cena and Randy Orton, despite being mostly solid bouts. The Women's and Tag Team divisions continue to feature interesting characters, but lack direction, whilst the Intercontinental title feud was relegated to happening in the commercial break, which screams a lack of time management.
Once again WWE's main programming continues to be watchable, but with very little to get excited about.
All content - James Marston