On 19th September 2017, WWE aired the 944th episode of SmackDown, live on the USA Network, from the Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA. The show featured Charlotte Flair returning to talk about Ric Flair's recent illness and more antics from Dolph Ziggler, as well as appearances from Randy Orton, United States Champion AJ Styles, General Manager Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens & Tag Team Champion The New Day. But was it any good? Let's take a look, eh?!
In-Ring- Commissioner Shane McMahon - (2:58)
The show begins with a previously, showing how Kevin Owens attacked Mr. McMahon on last week's Sin City SmackDown special. This is followed up by a promo in the ring from Shane McMahon, who vows "as a family we will strike out with massive vengeance" in what was a strong, emotionally driven performance from the SmackDown commissioner.
Singles Match - Randy Orton def. Aiden English - (3:47)
I was expecting a straight up squash match for this opening contest, so it was quite nice to see English get in some offence and control portions of the match, especially after a well-worked sequence on the outside that resulted in English hitting Orton's signature back suplex onto the announce. A classic Orton out of nowhere finish put the Maestro of Mayhem to bed though as a he jumped off the second rope and straight into an RKO. Post-match, Rusev interrupt the Viper's celebration, saying that he wanted revenge for Orton making him a joke in Bulgaria after the ten second loss at SummerSlam in August. This, somehow, lead to a match, with The Bulgarian Brute picking up a swift victory with a superkick after English had distracted Orton. Backstage, this interestingly paced rivalry continued as Renee Young spoke to Rusev in an incredibly entertaining interview that concluded with a chant of "Rusev Numer One", in which it was very clear that Rusev was having a tonne of fun jerking around.
In-Ring - The Singh Brothers and WWE Champion Jinder Mahal - (4:53)
If I wasn't reviewing this, I would've turned over the channel for this after last week's effort and I kind of wish I had, because this effort from Jinder Mahal was somehow worse. At least it was shorter I guess, but Mahal running through a series of Japanese and general East Asian stereotypes, whilst showing the same picture of Nakamura showing a face didn't get anymore entertaining ("Shinsuke, you always rook the same", not a typo, he said "rook"), it just made me wish we could move on as quickly as possible from this fiasco. Nakamura did a get chance to reply though...in a thirty second backstage interview with Renee Young, instead of, you know...beating the shit into Jinder, which would be the logical conclusion.
In-Ring - United States Champion AJ Styles, Baron Corbin and Tye Dillinger - (2:40)
Weirdly, a lot of AJ Styles' pre-match promo was taken up by pushing the upcoming Shane McMahon v Kevin Owens Hell in a Cell bout, but he did also talk about Baron Corbin being a failure and riffed off his Lone Wolf nickname, telling him he couldn't blow down the house that AJ Styles built. Their United States Championship match ended up not happening as Corbin attacked Styles before the bell, with Tye Dillinger making the save, leading to Corbin kayfabe injuring his knee before ending up in the Calf Crusher from Styles.
Recap - Money in the Bank 2010 - Highlights of Daniel Bryan winning the Money in the Bank briefcase in 2010, against Kane, Cody Rhodes, Sheamus, Wade Barrett, Heath Slater, Sin Cara and Justin Gabreil for some sponsorship reason.
Backstage - Baron Corbin and Renee Young - Corbin sold his knee injury well whilst hobbling backstage and got a laugh when he said he felt violated.
In-Ring - Charlotte Flair, Women's Champion Natalya, Becky Lynch, Tamina, Lana and General Manager Daniel Bryan - (7:32)
After a month or so off, Charlotte Flair returned to talk about her Dad, Ric Flair's recent illness, saying it had taught her that "Life is fragile and it's unexpected, so you have make the most of every moment". It was a nice heartfelt speech from Flair, which was used to fuel her characters motivations and allowed for some nice heat when she interrupted by Natalya. I've always found it easy to dislike Natalya and this promo was her at her most cringeworthy as she seems to really have embraced her annoying, yet entertaining, heel side during this championship run. Pushing a "Celebration of Women" that involved mentioning Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earheart, Operah Winfrey and the competitors of the Mae Young, before unveiling a print of her winning the Women's championship was maybe a little heavy handed, but non the less still an enjoyable skit that got over the character and her ideas well. Once, Flair mentioned Natalya's title, out came Becky Lynch, Naomi and Tamina (with Lana) to state their cases for a shot at the belt in a cliche that has been done to death in the women's division on both brands lately, before General Manager Daniel Bryan made a Fatal Four Way with a shot at the Women's Championship at Hell in a Cell on the line.
Tag Team Match - The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston) def. The Hype Bros (3:15) - A pretty straight forward victory for the new Tag Team champions, as they ran through a series of signature moves and we got a Big E hot tag. Kingston's wicked fosbury flop dive was the highlight, as New Day picked up the win with a Midnight Hour on Ryder.
Via Satellite - Kevin Owens - (2:42)
Before we heard from Owens, it was time for another replay of him beating the shit into Vince last week, I've a feeling we'll be seeing this footage a lot over the coming weeks. Owens then cut a brilliant promo, initially apologising for the attack and then ripping into Shane for making him do it, with loads of delicious little touches that make him the captivating performer he is, before closing with "For what I'm about to do to you, Shane, people like me don't go to hell, people like me go to heaven".
Backstage - The Hype Bros - "If we want things to change, we're going to have to do something drastic" says Rawley as the two look sad about being a bit shit.
In Arena - Dolph Ziggler - (6:09)
This gimmick is really starting to grow on me, as Ziggler once again did multiple entrances and cut promos on whoever he came out as. The entrances I could give or take, to be honest, but the speeches are getting better and more confident by the week and I'm steadily starting to come around to how The Show Off is performing them. This week, it was a D-Generation X special, as we first got Ziggler as Triple H, then Shawn Michaels and then a 2010 version of the duo, if they were one person. Ziggler asking "Can I run NXT now?" when as Triple H and "I can actually feel myself losing my smile" actually got a little chuckle from me and the fact he's targeting two men who have consistently produced matches on a level above Ziggler's best, as he claims he's "the greatest in-ring performer in WWE history" is what's making his heel gimmick work now, as opposed to him dressing up like Naomi. It's obvious this is leading to a feud with Bobby Roode sooner rather than later and hopefully Ziggler comes out better in that feud than his snorefest with Shinsuke Nakamura earlier in the year.
Commentary Desk - Corey Graves, Tom Phillips and Byron Saxton - WWE Network push with a focus at the matches for RAW's No Mercy on Sunday.
Fatal Four-Way for a shot at the Women's Championship - Charlotte Flair def. Becky Lynch, Naomi & Tamina - (6:00)
An unspectacular and disjointed closing match, as the SmackDown Women's division struggled with a lack of direction, despite creating a handful of decent sequences. In terms of the action there wasn't much wrong with it, the girls worked well together and a few awkward moments aside, produced some well-crafted moments with each other. Flair blocking Lynch's corner springboard side kick and then nailing a spear to Tamina was the best block of activity and was followed up with an attractive moonsault from Flair to both Tamina and Naomi moments later. The movement however wasn't good enough to get away with not having any kind of narrative to drive it, leaving the women feeling interchangeable and lacking direction. It continues to be the case that if you aren't challenging for the title then you're in a faceless block of women with no discerning character, storyline or path forward. The finish could have been cleaner as well with Naomi being pulling out of the ring by Lana after breaking up Tamina's pin on Lynch following a Superfly Splash and with Naomi busy kicking Lana's head off on the outside, Flair picked up the inevitable win with a big boot. It's not a finisher that I buy into and the fact that Flair doesn't use it regularly makes every match she wins it with feel flat come the ending.
ATPW Scale Rating - 4.31/10
This week's SmackDown was highlighted by a handful of strong promos, with Shane McMahon, Natalya and especially Kevin Owens impressing with their efforts on the microphone and keeping the show's head above water. It's a shame that Jinder Mahal has neither the skills nor the content to join them and once again his appearance was the worst thing about this week's episode. The action was not terrible, with Randy Orton v Aiden English probably being the strongest outing for just being short and entertaining, whilst the Women's four way dissapointed in it's slot with a lack of story and only minimal creativity.
Review by James Marston