On 6th June, WWE aired the 929th episode of SmackDown Live on the USA Network, from the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York. The show featured Lana returning during the reveal of Women's Money in the Bank brief case by Shane McMahon with SmackDown Women's Champion Naomi, Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, Tamina, Carmella and James Ellsworth present and Shinsuke Nakamura faced United States Champion Kevin Owens, as well as appearances from AJ Styles, Dolph Ziggler, The New Day, The Colons and WWE Champion Jinder Mahal. But was it any good? Let's take a look.
- ICYMI - Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Natalya, Tamina and Carmella brawl from #928, followed up by Shane McMahon announcing the five would compete in the first ever Women's Money in the Bank Ladder match on 18th June.
Lana debuted on SmackDown LIVE as the Women's Money in the Bank came into focus (13:05)
Lana is back! The crowd (see: males) seemed to love the Ravishing Russian giving her appearance a decent pop and chanting for her as she looked to get a place in the Money in the Bank ladder match. Her interaction with SmackDown Women's Champion Naomi was interesting as the former Funkadactyl came across as a bit of a dick, laughing at the suggestion of Lana being involved in the ladder match and generally being a condescending bitch. I'm not sure whether I was supposed to feel sorry for Lana, but the way the other women reacted to her it was difficult not to. When the newcomer stood up to Naomi saying "I could beat you" the line was delivered like a fiery babyface and got a really good reaction from Rochester. Lana's been wrestling pretty much full-time on NXT house shows in Florida since December (after a run of tag matches on WWE and NXT live events between April and June last year) against the likes of Liv Morgan, Kimberly Frankele and Ruby Riot, so I'm curious to see how see's developed as an in-ring performer. The rest of the segment was pretty unnecessary with Shane McMahon having some clunky dialogue as he unveiled the white Women's MITB briefcase, whilst all the women and James Ellsworth got some promo time. Most fumbled through their words, going over the same old ground, but Ellsworth and Becky Lynch stood out from the pack with some creative phrases.
Carmella, Natalya & Tamina def. Naomi, Flair & Lynch (8:40)
A rematch from Backlash, this bout benefitted from both not being on PPV and being the first match of the show. The crowd was hot for the mostly standard action, with Becky Lynch working as the face in peril and Naomi doing the hot tag. There was some fun stuff, like Lynch going for multiple covers on Carmella and then rolling her round for a good time, whilst Naomi's tag with her speedball kicks, sitout jawbreaker and springboard crossbody is a pretty slick routine that the SmackDown Women's champion has more or less nailed. I've got a lot of time for the Welcoming Committee as a team, they work well together and look convincing when they're controlling the match, with Natalya leading things, but I think it's a case that they're greater than the sum of their parts. It's shame that the structure of the Women's division means that any alliance like this is always going to short-lived. Lana's reappearance tripping Naomi on the apron, leading to a Tamina superkick picking up the victory, confirmed her status as a heel, but also got a pop from the crowd. Overall, this was an okay six woman, with a little more energy than the Backlash bout and arguably with more at stake with the competitors looking to gain momentum heading into Money in the Bank.
- Backstage - Mojo Rawley was upset that winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal hasn't opened more doors for him, complaining about not being the Money in the Bank ladder match, with Shane McMahon giving him the opportunity to qualify if he could defeat WWE Champion Jinder Mahal.
Styles def. Ziggler (7:38)
A first singles victory for AJ Styles in over a month as he got his win back on Dolph Ziggler in a brief encounter. I enjoyed the two worked a much different style of match to what they did last week, beginning with some crisp amateur style grappling, exchanging holds whilst Ziggler repeatedly went for a variety of pinfalls. This theme continued throughout the match with The Show Off seemingly desperate to get the match and pick up a second win over Styles in a row, including a jacknife cover with his feet on the top rope. After the break, the match was full of quick reversals and exchanges with the section in the corner with Styles escaping a superplex and then blocking a tornado DDT. Come to think of it, Styles seemed to always be one steps ahead of his opponent, perhaps learning from the mistakes of the #928 match, with a nice nod to the finish of last week when Styles feigned going for a Phenomenal Forearm, then caught Ziggler with a sunset flip. The finish combined the two major elements of the match with Styles able to counter a roll-up attempt and end up in the perfect position for a Styles Clash to pick up the victory. The wrestling was much slicker than last week's match, but the contest lacked the fire and big main event style near falls. I wouldn't mind seeing the two complete the trilogy before Money in the Bank.
- The Fashion Files - Bloody hell, I love these skits and this week was no different as Fandango & Tyler Breeze tried to understand The Colons' cologne in a ridiculous slice of TV. The New Day made their Fashion Files debut, looking to get some info on The Usos, leading to some hilarious exchanges as Breezango talked to each other in their heads and Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods looked on confused. Day One is H.
Mahal def. Rawley (12:24)
This was not a good match, as Mojo Rawley had his first TV bout for seven weeks and looked clumsy and sluggish against Jinder Mahal in a match that was mostly shoulder blocks. I think I counted around six shoulder blocks with Rawley seemingly hitting the move whenever he got some momentum going and then not hitting much else. Mahal didn't look much better out there, being exposed by the calibre of his opponent, with a number of the matches bigger moments looking incredibly awkward, including a terrible clothesline from Jinder and then a blundering spot where Mahal took advantage of the Singh Brother interference. Mahal eventually got the win by raking the eyes as Rawley went for Hyper Drive and then hitting Khallas to deny Rawley a place in the Money in the Bank ladder match. The post-match promo, with Mahal reminding us Randy Orton's hometown of St. Louis was in the USA and claiming to be the antidote to Orton and the audience's sickness, was not bad, but the highlight of this portion of the show was Mahal's new entrance which made him look like a star as the Singh Brother introduced him. If they could find a way to make him continue to look like a star once he gets in the ring and we'll be off to the races.
- VT - A look at Shinsuke Nakamura in a similar style to the video used at Backlash with someone painting a picture of Nakkers spliced in between Shinsuke dominating in the ring.
New Day def. The Colons (9:37)
After just under two months away, The New Day were back in the ring for the first time since losing to The Revival on RAW in April with their match against The Colons acting as a good refresher for those who'd forgot what Big E, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods had to offer. With Big E & Woods tagging this time around (supposedly Kingston is still recovering from his recent surgery) the New Day dominated proceedings against Epico & Primo, with a number of their traditional spots including a brace of abdominal stretches used to get the "New Day Rocks" claps going, before the Midnight Hour closed things out. It was difficult to get too engaged in the match, because it was always going to go one way but it was cool to see the popular trio back in the ring ahead of their title match with The Usos at Money in the Bank. Talking of the SmackDown Tag Team Champions we saw them interrupt post-match to cut an intriguing promo in which they tried to beat New Day at their own game. I think, their jokes weren't supposed to be funny as the two hammed it so much, acting like general dickheads. I think perhaps the segment could've done with an immediate reply as I came away from it feeling a little flat, perhaps due to some awkward structural choice.
- Backstage - Dasha Fuentes interview with Sami Zayn was interrupted by Baron Corbin who cheap shotted the Under Dog from the Underground, hitting him with a ladder and then throwing him into some conveniently placed ladders near bear.
- Backstage - Naomi demanded Shane McMahon put her in a match with Lana at Money in the Bank with the SmackDown Women's Championship on the line, with McMahon agreeing to the demands.
Nakamura def. Owens (12:35)
A real waste of a big one on one match-up here as Shinsuke Nakamura put away Kevin Owens in convincing fashion in a short main event that lacked spark. These two showed us their potential together in 2014 at the first ROH/NJPW War of the Worlds event, but unfortunately very little of what gave that bout it's charm was on display here. As a match this was passable stuff, with a loud crowd, with some nice stuff in the corner as Owens pulled Nakamura off the top to hit a cannonball, but mostly the action lacked an impact with Owens in particular looking unmotivated in his role as he phoned in most of his action. The finish couldn't have been cleaner with Nakamura blocking a Pop-up Powerbomb before hitting a spinning wheel kick, reverse exploder suplex and a Kinshasa before pinning the United States Champion in the middle of the ring. WWE seem set on making Nakamura look like a force to be reckoned, seemingly at the expense of putting on matches that people want to see. Baron Corbin attacked Nakamura post-match, ending the episode standing tall after End of Days.
ATPW Scale Rating - 3.93/10
A poor showing from SmackDown this week, which considering the card promised AJ Styles v Dolph Ziggler and Kevin Owens v Shinsuke Nakamura is more than a little disappointing. Whilst Styles v Ziggler was an intriguingly different match to their contest last week it didn't hit the same heights, whilst Nakamura v Owens was overly clinical at points. The rest of the show was mostly mediocre stuff, whilst Jinder Mahal and Mojo Rawley had an absolute stinker.