Thursday, 25 August 2016

TV Review: WWE Smackdown Live #888 - Dolph Ziggler v AJ Styles

Show Aired - 23rd August 2016

As Dolph Ziggler and AJ Styles battled to decide the main event of 11th September's Backlash supercard, how would the first Smackdown Live after SummerSlam shape-up?

In the main event of the episode, AJ Styles would face Dolph Ziggler, in a match that if Ziggler won he would earn a World Championship opportunity and join Styles in a Triple Threat match with Dean Ambrose on 11th September. I'll get into how this came about and if it was any good in a moment, but I'd like to talk about the match first, because I'm a backwards kinda dude. I'll start at the start though, which, to be honest, wasn't all that great. The Mohegan Sun Arena began split between the two, but after the first ad-break they were almost silent. This could have been down to the fact that Ziggler still hasn't been taken to as a main eventer by the audience again but for me, this was down to Styles and Ziggler failing to gel in the ring, there was a couple of occassions were simple looking moves looked odd and it all became a bit awkward to watch. I was worried that the bout would end up going to same way as Ziggler and Ambrose's SummerSlam bout, as there was no pace, no particular narrative to follow and no intensity or urgency behind the performances. 

Luckily, unlike Ziggler v Ambrose, this contest had a gear change and once that happened the pair looked much more comfortable with each other, everything suddenly became much crisper and the Uncasville crowd woke up, creating an exciting five or six minutes that was helped by the clever stipulation. The idea that Styles already had a title match and Ziggler was fighting to join him, meant it was much more conceivable that The Show Off could somehow pick up a victory, than if there was another set of circumstances. This meant that when Ziggler hit a Zig Zag after escaping a Styles Clash the crowd were convinced that the 36 year old former World Heavyweight Champion had got the win, leading to a brilliant reaction when The Phenomenal One got his shoulder off the mat. It would a Styles Clash that would break Ziggler's heart however, with The Lunatic Fringe doing a superb job of putting this over on commentary, before the show went off the air with a staredown between Champion and #1 Contender.

In the top match from the undercard, American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan) and Breezango (Fandango & Tyler Breeze) met in a splendid Quarter Final match in a tournament to crown the first Smackdown Tag Team Champions. The four lads took their ten minutes and ran with in a match that in my opinion managed to elevate the stock of both teams and add to the prestige of the Tag Team Championships before anyone has even won them. Smooth action, clever booking, great near falls for both sides, crisp reversals and a satisfying finish. A false finish were Fandango would thwart American Alpha going for a variation of the Doomsday Device, allowing to nail a victory roll on Jordan made it genuinely believable that Breezango might win the contest, which is credit to how everyone involved played the moment. American Alpha may have lifted the tag division since their debut, but Fandango and Breeze showed that they just needed the opportunity and despite losing to Grand Amplitude it was Breezango that got the most out of this one. 

The show began with Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan unveiling the new Tag Team Championship and Smackdown Women's Championship in front of the rosters of both divisions. The belts look much better than that of the Universal title, generally being the reverse of their RAW counterparts, with the Tag titles featuring blue leather and silver plates, instead of bronze. McMahon and Bryan also announced a Tournament for the Tag Team titles commencing on the show and concluding at Backlash, as well as a Six Package Challenge for the Women's Championship on the same event, which will include Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, Carmella, Naomi, Natalya & Nikki Bella. This was a busy segment though as Heath Slater interrupted in a humourous moment, that saw him added to the Tag title tournament, if he could find a partner, but only be offered a Smackdown Contract if he won the entire tournament. Dolph Ziggler attacked AJ Styles as The Phenomenal One was putting a case together for being #1 Contender to Dean Ambrose's World Championship. 

Perhaps surprisingly, Randy Orton made an appearance on the show, just two days after getting ten stitches in his head in the closing scenes of SummerSlam 2016, thanks to Brock Lesnar. With Lesnar nowhere to be seen on RAW, it felt like a long time to wait to get to see one half of the main event of the second biggest show of the year. It seemed like WWE wanted to quickly distance Orton from Lesnar, as he spent more time talking about Shane McMahon getting involved than he did about the man who made him piss blood out of his forehead. Things moved even more quickly when Bray Wyatt appeared and began to talk about Orton only being a man and himself being a God. It was Wyatt's usual cryptic mumbo jumbo, which is captivating but meant very little at this point. I did like that it looked like The Eater of Worlds was going to accept Orton's offer of a scrap, only for the lights to go out and disappear, as it made the crowd realise they wanted to see the fight and then took it away. I would seem like Orton v Wyatt will be one of the upper card bouts for the 11th September supercard.

So, I've talked about the Ziggler v Styles match, but I haven't talked about how it was booked. The Phenomenal One was on fire when given the opportunity to cut an in-ring promo, addressing his victory over John Cena on 21st August and continuing to add to his case for deserving a World title opportunity. He passive aggressively called The Show-Off jealous because of his win over Cena, coming across like a real jerk as he told the crowd "You don't have to be John Cena fans anymore, you can be AJ Styles fans" and generally droned on and on about being "The Face that Runs the Place". It was a great heel rant of a promo. I couldn't stop watching, but boy, did I want someone to stop him from talking. That's what a heel needs to be in 2016, someone entertaining enough that you don't want to change channel, but annoying enough that you want to see them get beats. The segment closed with Ziggler being held back by various WWE staff, including 3 time WCW World Cruiserweight Champion Billy Kidman, before Daniel Bryan would come out to book the show's main event. 

In the other Tag Team Championship tournanment Quarter Final, The Usos (Jey Uso & Jimmy Uso) would seal their place in the final four with a straight-forward victory over The Ascension (Konnor & Viktor). This was your regular run of the mill tag bout, with Konnor & Viktor dominating Jimmy, before a Jey hot tag would lead into the finish. A couple of back and forth flourishes in the last exchanges upped the quality, but it would still be Viktor who took the pinfall after a superkick from Jey and a Samoan Splash from Jimmy. It was a shame that John "Bradshaw" Layfield spent a good deal of time talking about fellow commentator David Otunga's wife, singer Jennifer Hudson, and The Miz, instead of talking about the importance of the contest.

The only women's match on the show was a rematch from Smackdown Live #886, as Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss got to an extra few minutes to showcase their ability, ahead both women competitor to become Women's Champion on 11th September. Whilst longer than their previous match, I feel the Lynch and Bliss deserved to be given more time, with the fact that the crowd were loudly behind The Lass Kicker showing that the audience wants to see more of her and her division. The wrestling was all done well and both ladies added little flourishes to their performances that will get people invested in them and make these short contests worth watching. Lynch would get the submission win after a sweet transition into the Disarmer, essentially getting her win back from two weeks ago. If Smackdown Live only has this much time for it's women on TV, they better make up for it when it comes to their own supercards.

Best of the Rest 

  • In a shocking double turn, Carmella would attack Nikki Bella from behind as Bella was being interviewed by Renee Young, meaning that their match never got started.


ATPW Scale Rating - 5.81/10 

Smackdown Live picked up some momentum heading out of SummerSlam and towards Backlash, adding three matches to that card and producing some quality wrestling along the way. Either Ziggler v Styles or American Alpha v Breezango was the match of the night and if pushed I'd probably give it to the tag match for being a more balanced affair. The build to the main event, featuring the great Styles promo was also up their for the best thing on the show. The opening segment and Orton's confrontation with Wyatt were both positive parts of the show as well. 

The only parts of the show that I'd considered below average were The Usos v The Ascension and Bliss v Lynch, even then they weren't bad matches, had some highlights and were well wrestled, if both had been afforded more time then you'd have to think that Smackdown Live would have had a better rating.

This was an above average show, that was close to getting a good rating on the scale. The strongest episode for three weeks and marginally better than this week's Monday Night RAW (3-2 Smackdown Live) almost everything on the show was of a good quality and had some thought behind it, with nothing bad to the shit on the picnic either. 

All content - James Marston 
Banner Credit - Kai Stellar

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