The world of WWE SmackDown Live dealt with the fallout from its TLC pay-per-view last Sunday last night (Dec. 6, 2016) in Austin, Texas—and much of the roster got "awards" for their various deeds and misdeeds. For full results and the live blog, click here.
The Elephant in the Room
... And no, despite WWE World Champion AJ Styles' japes, it wasn't his bare butt on display at TLC. ("DON'T IT LOOK GOOD!")
Unfortunately, Styles had a slight ankle injury and was not medically cleared to compete, meaning we would not get the hyped bout of James Ellsworth challenging for Styles' title.
This brought out the presumed challenger, who was convinced that Styles was afraid of him:
Is that a convenient way of getting out of defending your WWE title against me here tonight? Maybe Daniel Bryan is protecting you! Because after all AJ, I have your number. I’ve beaten you three times, hehehe. YOU’RE DUCKING ME, STYLES. And if you weren’t ducking me, I’d beat you tonight for a fourth time and become WWE World Champion. And you know what, if it wasn’t for me AJ, you wouldn’t have won on Sunday anyway.
Ellsworth's delivery of "You're ducking me, Styles," was one of the most wonderfully delusional lines in years. Love or hate his utilization, there's no denying that Ellsworth is crushing this role—and is actually a very good promo.
AJ was amused:
You’re drinking your own CHIN and TONIC, HAHAH, see what I did there?! Everything you’ve done here, everything you have here in WWE is because of Dean Ambrose. Well, guess what buddy. You burned that bridge, and you burned yourself. I put you in a neck brace, I put you in a back brace. But Dean Ambrose, man, he doesn’t know when to quit... I know when to stop beating you, Dean Ambrose doesn’t. You’re gonna see firsthand, he’s not gonna stop until he caves in your face like your chin is, pal.
Right on cue, Ambrose's music hit, he walked to the ring, stepped directly to Ellsworth (who had stuck his hand out for a handshake), kicked him in the gut, gave him a very well deserved Dirty Deeds, and walked back out.
Literal perfection. And Styles, who had dipped out of the ring, watched it all from the announce table, enjoying the hell out of the whole scene.
It was soon announced that Dean Ambrose would join The Miz on a very special episode of Miz TV (and the people rejoiced) that promised more explosives.
Before the segment started The Miz—because he is the greatest in the world (and clearly was setting up for later)—wondered aloud: "What, no 'You Deserve It' chants?"
Once he was situated, he called Ambrose out, and immediately began attempting to rile him up. Ambrose suggested that he wasn't angry at Ellsworth's actions, but he was in shock, that "this guy who was working a minimum wage job until I came along," had betrayed him.
The Miz, not inaccurately, countered that Ambrose had only used Ellsworth to get under Styles' skin, that he "manipulated" Ellsworth to suit his own agenda, and asked, "Could you really be that surprised that the guy you treated like a puppet finally cut the strings and fought back? ... Don’t you think you kinda deserved it?" He continued, noting that because The Lunatic Fringe had hit Ellsworth with Dirty Deeds, we wouldn't get an Ambrose-Ellsworth match.
Ambrose had heard enough, expressing surprise that The Miz was trying to "intentionally piss me off." The Miz, clever as always, quickly ducked behind Maryse, and told Ambrose not to worry that he left Sunday empty-handed, because he had just the thing for him: THE FIRST EVER "MIZ PARTICIPATION AWARD."
But even better, the crowd—in a mood for banter—began chanting, ever louder: "You deserve it!" to Ambrose.
So, so good.
The boiling point was reached, though, as Ambrose said, "You know what it might be fun to try, right now? To try to see if I can shove this entire thing, down your throat."
But before he could act, "Flight of the Valkyries" hit, and General Manager Daniel Bryan continued his proxy war with The Miz. He told Dean he couldn't let him attack Miz ... because he was facing him in the main event of SmackDown Live. When the crowd began to "YES" Bryan turned the screw on his nemesis, asking if they were "YES'ing" because they wanted the match to be made an Intercontinental Championship match.
Understandably, The Miz immediately turned apoplectic. The nerve of Bryan!
Ambrose and Miz showed really strong in ring chemistry during a really well worked title bout. Both guys have taken criticism for their ring work, but at this point any such jabs are well, well outdated—they're both on fire right now.
The finish was put in motion after The Miz "accidentally" clattered into the referee after coming off the top rope, allowing Maryse to shove Ambrose onto the mat. The Miz then hit Ambrose with a running high knee—and, it should be said, clearly doing it better than the general manager used to do—but only garnered a very close two count.
This sequence brought Ellsworth of all people to ringside, who got in Maryse's face about the interference. Ellsworth, clearly at least attempting to make things right, got onto the apron to complain to the referee—just as Ambrose grabbed Miz in a small package and held him down for a visual pin of at least five seconds. Finally the referee noticed, but it was too late—Miz kicked out.
When Ambrose noticed who had cost him the match, he was ballistic. The Miz, ever the opportunist, snuck up and hit Dean with a Skull Crushing Finale, and retained his title. Ellsworth, realizing what he had done, at first slowly backed away from ringside but then reached a dead sprint heading up the ramp, clearly fearing the consequences of costing Ambrose yet another championship match.
On commentary, JBL was in complete hysterics, nearly choking on his own laughter. (He's yet another who has benefited hugely from the brand split.) Ellsworth is going to face a mighty reckoning in the near future at Ambrose's hand.
This story is hitting on all cylinders right now.
The Witch Queen of SmackDown Live
Glitter. Glitz. Sparkle. Bliss.
Alexa Bliss celebrated her SmackDown Live Women's Championship victory over Becky Lynch at TLC in style, with a bevy of pyro and (hallelujah!) a live mic.
Anytime Ms. Bliss has a live mic, the segment is guaranteed to be electric. After The Miz, she's the best talker in the company—by a fair margin (and there are some really good talkers in WWE). Her braggadocio was in top form last night:
Ding dong, the witch is champ. At TLC, I proved that happy endings don’t exist... (As she heard the crowd talking about Becky) OK, you wanna talk about Becky? Fine. I heard that last week Becky called me a word that rhymes with the word "witch." Well, this little bitch now runs the whole SmackDown women’s division.
To no one's surprise, the former champion came out, clearly annoyed, and, well, their exchange was little short of straight fire:
AB: Turn the music off, back up. And why are you even here? This is my party, Becky. And the invitation says no losers.
BL: Shut your face, Lexi. You’re right, I did not get the job done Sunday. But I cannot stand that some selfish, petulant, whiny little ... girl (pausing for effect to suggest that she was again going to use foul language) could be considered the face of SmackDown Live. But you’re about to find out that it’s one thing to get to the top, it’s another to stay at the top.
AB: You’re right Becky, but unlike you, I don’t care about getting the love and admiration of the WWE universe. This isn’t the new era any more Becky, this is my era. You can call me whatever name your broken heart desires. But you will call me champion.
BL: Nah. I like what I called you last week a whole lot more. But your reign begins and ends with my rematch, and I want my rematch, right, now.
Bliss acted as if she were ready to throw down, taking her jacket off—but instead rolled out the ring, grabbed her title, and left. As she walked off, Lynch motioned to her wrist, suggesting that the clock was ticking on Bliss' reign.
This was all so very, very good.
There have been complaints that Becky Lynch has looked weak in this feud, consistently getting punked out by Bliss in the build up and then losing her championship. But Becky has been booked as a featured player in the division for over a year now, was in the women's championship match at WrestleMania, was the first woman drafted to SmackDown Live, and was the first SmackDown Live women's champion. She has sufficient accolades.
There are currently two stars in SmackDown Live women's division: Becky Lynch and Nikki Bella. Alexa Bliss will soon be the third, thanks to her strong booking and incredible promo talent. Giving Bliss the title for at least a brief period of time elevates her to the top level, will give her a boatload of featured time on the mic, and raises the stature of the entire division.
It should, however, be noted that WWE is costing itself money by not stocking the WWE shop with Alexa Bliss merchandise. Because she is five feet of gold.
As our new champion would say, "Rude."
The Wyatt Family beat former champions Heath Slater and Rhyno to retain their newly won SmackDown Live tag team championships. The new incarnation continues to bond: With Slater prone, waiting the cold darkness of Sister Abigail, Bray Wyatt instead tagged in Randy Orton and twisted the man with kids and an above ground pool into an RKO.
That they went and got the rematch immediately out of the way suggests that there is a set direction that SmackDown Live is headed with its tag division, and with the Wyatt Family. Adding Orton (and, to be frank, subtracting Erick Rowan) has made the act the hottest its been in several years—and in kayfabe, a legitimate force to be reckoned with.
Meanwhile, the odd couple story of Slater and Rhyno fell in on itself during Talking Smack, the pair separating after their failures of the last few days. It will be interesting to see how both are handled in the coming weeks—it's unlikely either will ever have the momentum of the last few months, but they can both be valuable role players.
Baron Corbin defeated Kalisto in another TLC rematch. This was just about a perfect three minute sprint, with Kalisto using his speed to get in a decent amount of offense. Unfortunately for the Little Guy, he flipped himself right into an End of Days, and The Lone Wolf (who was wearing a t-shirt that literally only had a solitary wolf on it) again recorded the pinfall. Corbin is headed for big things, but Kalisto also did very well here, really emphasizing his speed and agility in contrast to the power of Corbin.
All the rest
Carmella and Natalya were scheduled to have a match—after Carmella snitched on her Sunday for the crime of attacking Nikki Bella backstage at Survivor Series—but The Princess of Staten Island first had to explain why Natalya had "bragged" to her about the misdeed. You see, Natalya—according to Carmella—was envious of Nikki Bella and upset that she was always second best: "Natalya wishes she was as glamorous as Nikki Bella, as curvaceous as Nikki Bella, as beautiful as me … or Nikki Bella."
(Credit again to Carmella for shutting up a burgeoning "How you doin'" chant by heavily laying on her Staten Island accent and saying "Ah, shut up, I'm talkin' here!" She has been a revelation on the mic.)
Nattie was none too thrilled about this, and when she came out to the ring had zero interest in having a formal match, instead opting to exchange hands with Carmella. Little Miss Fabulous bolted, however, sprinting to the back with Natalya on her heels.
She managed to evade capture by Natalya, who instead walked into Nikki Bella. The Fearless Queen stood stone-faced, clearly disbelieving Natalya's denials (and Nattie being out of breath for this whole segment—she had just chased Carmella—was a really clever touch), before walking off.
Nikki was later shown walking backstage, a big frown on her face, before she ran into Sophia Grace, who apparently is about Alexa Bliss' size and has a British accent. They briefly talked, and Nikki felt better.
Moving right along.
Chad Gable defeated Tyler Breeze in singles action. This match came about because Breezango earlier in the day had ticketed American Alpha backstage for fashion violations (Breeze shouting "Book 'em 'Dango!" was delightful). Gable won with Chaos Theory after a few minutes—during which Fandango managed to trip himself on the camera cords, which was a hoot.
Alpha's push is definitely coming, but Breezango also absolutely deserve more time. They're a ton of fun, completely committed to the gimmick and both skilled workers.
The Hype Bros defeated The Ascension in a short tag team match. Not much to note, though The Ascension's face paint continues to evolve and Mojo Rawley's enthusiasm on the ring apron is a hugely underrated ability.
None of these shorter segments felt a drag ("filler") at all. On the contrary, they were a ton of fun.
Sorry Cruiserweight Classic finale. Sorry Raw after Battleground. Sorry any number of random SmackDown Live episodes.
This might have been the best TV wrestling show of the year.