On 9th October, WWE's Smackdown brand presented the resurrection of No Mercy, as the event made it's return after an eight year hiatus. With matches likes Chris Benoit & Kurt Angle v Edge & Rey Mysterio and Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker's original Hell in a Cell bout from the 2002, as well as Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels' epic ladder match from 2008 in the event's history, how would this new edition shape up?
In the main event, AJ Styles put the World Championship on the line against John Cena and Dean Ambrose, whilst Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, Randy Orton and Intercontinental Champion The Miz completed the top of the card. Would No Mercy 2016 be an event to remember?
The main event of the show actually opened the show (in an attempt to secure viewers outside of the US Presidential debate), as AJ Styles retained the World Championship by pinning John Cena in a Triple Threat that also included Dean Ambrose. It felt very odd indeed to start with the biggest match for the biggest prize on the brand, but the crowd was hot for it and the trio kicking things off with a trade off of their finishing moves allowed it to settle into the slot quite well. The match flowed particularly well throughout, as the trio used the gimmick effectively to create a number of striking highspots and even incorporating it into simple moments like rest holds. A personal favourite moment was Ambrose trying to suplex Styles to the floor, which built seamlessly into Cena hitting a German suplex on the pair in the ring. A mental situation with all landing big strikes one after another later in the contest also stands out for it's fluency.
Where the match didn't quite come off for me was in the finish, or more accurately, finishes. The first of these saw Styles tap out with Ambrose had the Calf Crusher locked on and Cena had the F of the STF cinched in, leading to a confusing moment where the referee decided to continue the match. It was very Dusty. So very Dusty. The actual ending would see Styles level Cena with two chair shots, one to the stomach and one to the back, after Cena had hit an Avalanche Attitude Adjustment on Ambrose. After the big moment Cena's move (which is also steadily beginning to lose a little of it's shine due to overuse) a couple of chair shots felt a little anti-climactic. An exclamation point of a Styles Clash or just about anything else in Styles' arsenal would have done the moment justice, short of Styles being able to twat Cena in the face with his weapon (ooh). Obviously, this whole situation was born out of trying to keep Ambrose in the running for a title shot (He submitted Styles and didn't take the pinfall), whilst adding a further feather to Styles' "I Beat John Cena" cap and give The Cenation Leader a reason to continue the feud with Styles when he returns from whatever it is he's going off to do for a bit. When you consider they had about twenty different things they needed to do, fair play to those who put this match together for actually managing that without everything breaking down entirely.
The semi-main came midway through the show as Dolph Ziggler defeated The Miz (seconded by Maryse) and won the Intercontinental Championship for the fifth time, saving his career and perhaps having it's best match in the process. This was a terrific bout, helped in part how involved the audience were with the storytelling as they seemed to react to every little movement, with the noise increasing towards the end. The career v title gimmick was mined for all it was worth. With Ziggler's WWE future up in the air (helped by some great build up work where Ziggler emphasised how he had other ventures set up should he lose) it appeared and sounded like every fan in the arena was unsure of how things were going to go, perhaps in way not seen since CM Punk walked out of Chicago with the WWE Championship in 2011. Both men threw so much into their performances, with Ziggler's selling obviously being a crux of the bout as he sold the leg following a Figure Four Leglock superbly. Miz more than held his weight as a vicious methodical heel, desperate to get rid of a rival and add a few more sweet McMahon dollars to his paycheck.
Miz's near falls seemed to be building and building only one way, a dramatic and emotional exit for Ziggler, and by the time Maryse beckoned down The Spirit Squad (Mikey (Mondo) & Kenny (Dykstra)) and their distraction allowed The Awesome One to nail his second Skull Crushing Finale (the first coming after Maryse sprayed perfume in The Show Off's eyes in a mimic of the conclusion of their Backlash encounter) it felt almost fitting that Ziggler's employment would perish in the same way it started. Perhaps only having Chavo Guerrero come out on a golf cart would have been able to top it for the Ouroboros vibe it created. But Ziggler kicked out. It felt magical. The man who no one could have given a fuck about in the SummerSlam World Championship match just two months prior was suddenly the man the Golden 1 Centre, Sacremento and the entire WWE Universe couldn't bare to see go. After that the finish was near perfect, as the referee chucked Maryse and Spirit Squad out of the arena and with Miz distracted Zig-Zag kicked him in his weird face and got the victory and was raising the Intercontinental Championship in the air before the sound of Sweet Chin Music had finished buzzing in the former champion's ears. This was the best match either man has ever had and also easily in the Top 10 matches WWE has produced this year.
A huge part of me wishes that Dolph Ziggler and The Miz were allowed to close out this show, as even with the return of Luke Harper, Bray Wyatt's victory over Randy Orton didn't quite cut the mustard in that role. The bout showed early promise with The Viper's RKO attempt blocked by Wyatt, who rolled to outside and began laughing. It got my attention early, but as soon as Orton did an exaggerated flat back bump off an uppercut, I was taken out of the action. Perhaps, Orton is still feeling the effects of the beatdown from Lesnar at SummerSlam, because for a man that was willing to take multiple legit elbow blows from The Beast Incarnate, he worked particularly safe on a number of the match bigger moments. Whilst being "safe" shouldn't be a criticism of a wrestler in this injury plagued era, being overly-so can effect a match and this was notable when Orton took a clumsy apron DDT spot and ended up falling nowhere the edge of the apron, taking away massively from what should have been a major near fall in a WWE ring.
Despite that criticism, Orton and Wyatt did put on a good match. There was a decent story, that saw both men trying to nail their big moves as early and often as they could, which worked well into the finish when it seemed inevitable that The Apex Predator had Wyatt ready for the RKO following his elevated DDT. There was also some fine work on the outside with the steel ring steps being introduced mid-match by Wyatt, before in the closing moments he'd take a big bump onto them as he went for a running senton in a nice piece of symmetry. Overall, I thought the story they told was pretty good, it kept me entertained and I never felt bored or uninterested, because the action was mostly tight and Wyatt is such an interesting character. I just feel like there was a lack of passion or emotion in the contest, especially considering Wyatt had attacked Orton backstage on the previous Smackdown supercard, and for a feud that has been all about mind games and dramatic segmented narratives, there was a surprising lack of any of that sort of thing. Only the Luke Harper return at the conclusion of the show saved this from being a completely throw-away show closer.
Every inch of me has loved Heath Slater and Rhyno's ride up the tag team ranks and all the razzamatazz that has gone with it, a good few inches of me has enjoyed The Usos recent heel turn and all their general shenanigans and bastardery. Therefore when they came together again in a rematch of the Smackdown Tag Team title tournament final from 11th September, it took me to a happy, happy place. Whilst part of the shine of Slater's contract chase alongside title dreams was now absent, I felt like The Usos upped their game with Jey especially getting in some good heel work as he riffed on the "He's Got Kids" chants by reminding the crowd that he also has kids. Two kids, Jey, two kids, Slater's got seven wonderful children, don't be a dick Jey. No one cares about your kids, Jey. Okay, got a bit carried away there. Either way, this bout saw both teams begin to explore what they can do in their new roles more, with Slater getting to do a pretty damn sweet hot tag sequence and Jimmy & Jey scrapping away on the larger Rhyno. The finish could have been a little slicker with the Tequila Sunrise being a difficult move to manoeuvre out of, but The Man Beast continued the fairytale with a gorgeous Gore, so crack open the squirty cheese and move on!
Skipping forward to Talking Smack's headlining segment, the new Intercontinental Champion Dolph Ziggler spoke to Renee Young, Smackdown Commissioner Shane McMahon and Smackdown General Manager Daniel Bryan. As with a lot of the work done on the show, the interview felt very real and raw for Ziggler, who put over the emotion of his win well, questioned McMahon and Bryan for not kayfabe putting the match on last and put over The Miz for his hard work, whilst also calling him a jerk to supposedly keep the feud running without completely blowing the kayfabe doors off the sports-entertainment van. Some of the best work done was in explaining the effects of the perfume spray from Maryse, with Zig-Zag doing a stellar job of describing how it was painful, why it was painful and how it impacted the rest of the match. It's that kind of stuff that will make a second, third or fourth viewing of that contest even more enjoyable. Well done Mr. Nemeth on a superb performance all evening.
Skipping back to the Kick-Off show, because I'm crazy motherlicker who don't play by no rules, American Alpha (Chad Gable & Jason Jordan) and The Hype Brothers (Mojo Rawley & Zack Ryder) bested The Ascension (Konnor & Viktor) & The Vaudevillains (Aiden English & Simon Gotch) in an Eight Man Tag Team bout that outshone it's stature as the depth of Smackdown's Tag Team division continued to be showcased. The contest worked smartly around the ad break, before heading into the more meaty second act as Ryder worked the face in peril role, whilst English, Konnor, Gotch and Viktor tried their best to keep The Long Island Iced Z from tagging out. All four heels did some strong work here, with some nice booking seeing Jordan left as the only team member left to tag. This negated the more logical tag from Ryder to Rawley who is arguably the least over of anyone involved. The finish came soon after as all eight men got their own moments in a busy breakdown, leading to Jordan pinning English after a Grand Amplitude that came almost out of nowhere, with a nice touch of Gable having fight off Gotch in the ropes. This was a great advert for anyone unsure about the show and the kind of thing WWE should be doing more often with the Kick-Off programme.
The higher profile of two female matches was a grudge contest that saw Nikki Bella go over Carmella. This match had some good sizzle but had apparently forgotten to actually put the steak in the pan. The storyline elements like Bella going straight after Carmella got me interested in where the two would go, with a pair of well-done slaps also helping to get over the distaste that the two had for each other, perhaps better than the Orton v Wyatt closer managed. However, after the opening slap-fest, when the two had to actually wrestle is where the match fell apart for me. There was a lot of sloppy hair pulling from Carmella, awkward hope spots for Bella, Carmella slapping on another wear down when they appeared to get lost, more clumsiness from the Princess of Staten Island on a rana and thrust kick, this was not good stuff at all. The last stretch with Carmella getting the Code of Silence locked in twice was a slight improvement, but Bella's TKO, now going by Rack Attack 2.0 is not a pretty move at all. I feel like Bella isn't a strong enough wrestler to carry the still green Carmella to a decent match. They've still got roles to play if positioned with stronger talents like Becky Lynch, but this one didn't help the women's cause.
Baron Corbin's victory over Jack Swagger was poorly received by the live crowd and received "Boring" and "Delete" chants from portions of the crowd, which has a lot to do with how the pair have been handled since the brand split and even more so on how Swagger has been treated for years. It's unreasonable to expect an audience to care about The Real American when he's only just turned up on Smackdown, had his repackage apparently sidelined, had only four singles matches on RAW or Smackdown in 2016, hasn't had a PPV singles match since December 2015, hadn't won a PPV singles match since February 2012! Therefore, Corbin and Swagger wrestled the wrong type of bout here. Corbin went after Swagger's hand after it got caught in the steel steps, which would have been a great story with an invested audience, it was sold well, it went on to effect a major moment when Swagger couldn't do the Patriot Lock (which should have been the finish, being able to do the move later on didn't make much sense), but it wasn't right. Here was the time to try to get the crowd on board! Do the Real American schtik, work out two or three big spots that will make the 7 minutes or so stand out and grab the crowd by the balls, but that wasn't to be. A good chunk of the blame has to go with whoever the agent or producer was for this one.
Rounding off the evening, Alexa Bliss suffered a surprise loss to Naomi, after Becky Lynch was unable to defend the Smackdown Women's Championship against her #1 Contender, Bliss. This ended up being a six minute mess as Naomi and Bliss seemed to just throw a load of random stuff together, without particularly trying to have a clear and coherent contest. Naomi hit a decent split leg moonsault early on, but the move was completely out of place a few minutes in to, what I guess was supposed to be, the face-shine. Bliss sort of worked the arm a bit, Naomi sold the arm a bit, but it never felt like it was the driving story for the contest, despite being awkwardly involved in the finish. Bizarrely, Naomi hit a wicked spinning facebuster thing, but then fucked up her Rear View finish. Drop the Rear View, Naomi, it's red reels. The finish went from bad to worse as Naomi got a flash pin after shifting the weight whilst Bliss had an arm bar locked on. I struggle to understand the booking for this one, with Bliss rescheduled to face Lynch on a November episode of Smackdown in Glasgow, a win here would have solidified her at the top contender, Naomi winning unnecessarily muddies the situation.
Best of the Rest
- On Talking Smack, Alexa Bliss was interviewed by Renee Young, Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon, as the Smackdown Women's Championship picture got even more muddied.
- On Kick-Off, Nikki Bella joined Renee Young, Booker T, Jerry “The King” Lawler and Lita for a short interview, that was mainly Lawler perving on Bella.
- Tom Phillips interviewed The Usos on Kick-Off – The Miz and Maryse interrupted Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan backstage prior to the Intercontinental Championship Match - Curt Hawkins announced he'd be having his “very first match” on the next Smackdown Live on Kick-Off - Bray Wyatt did some creepy singing in his rocking chair before his match.
ATPW Scale Rating
No Mercy 2016 - 5.5/10
+ Kick-Off - 5.71/10
+Kick Off + Talking Smack - 5.73/10
Show in a Sentence - An higgeldy piggeldy card, propped up by one very good match and one great match with two career-best performances.
Match of the Night - Dolph Ziggler v The Miz
Weakest Match of the Night - Naomi v Alexa Bliss