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WWE SmackDown Live Recap & Reactions (Dec. 13, 2016): Falling Upward

WWE SmackDown Live was back last night (Dec. 13) from Washington, DC as they start to build to a bit of a super show later this month. I know you all expect andrew or Tonya for tonight, but don’t worry, you should have both your normal Raw and SmackDown recappers next week.

As always, check out ReverendKain’s super live blog for all the SmackDown results.

The lack of a shake up

We learned at the start of the show that James Ellsworth is too sick to get his title match. He couldn’t even complete a sentence to try to convince Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon otherwise before hocking some snot onto his shirt sleeve. Much like Emmalina, this will have to wait for another day.

The show then turned to Miz TV with special guest AJ Styles. The two boisterous belt holders got along swimmingly at first. Miz complimented AJ’s luxurious hair even! But when Styles made the claim that there’s no one in his league, Miz got serious. He didn’t technically disagree with AJ - he claimed he was above AJ’s league.

Before this could go much further, babyfaces who can’t pick up a win Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose came out. However, things soon got interesting when the lights went out and Luke Harper appeared, delivering a big time lariat to Dean Ambrose. Some new blood was added to the stale quadrant of guys who have been feuding since late August.

This led to an elimination fatal 4-way between Ambrose, Miz, Harper, and Ziggler to decide a number one contender to compete against AJ Styles on the Dec. 27 SmackDown in Chicago.

The main event started as the Luke Harper Show as the Wyatt Family member owned the early goings, reminding people he is more than a Wyatt lackey. Things got a bit crazy and Harper, Ziggler, and Ambrose found themselves down. The opportunistic Miz tried to cover all the downed men but Dean reversed the attempt into a school boy of his own, eliminating Miz. The A-Lister’s shortcuts bit him in the arse tonight.

Next out was Harper. It took a bit of work from both Ambrose and Ziggler, but together they were able to eliminate the most intriguing possible outcome for tonight.

This left two possible finishes that were less exciting than the two that had already been eliminated. We could either have gotten Ambrose vs. AJ yet again. Or we could see Dolph Ziggler earn himself a WWE title match after losing an Intercontinental feud with the Miz.

It was the latter.

The Miz returned to ringside, his intentions not quite clear. His overall presence ended up distracting Ambrose more and Ziggler hit Dean with a superkick to win. He’ll face Styles on the 27th.

If you’re a fan of Ziggler, this was probably good for you. Full disclosure: I’m not.

He’s done better since the brand split. In fact early on, when he couldn’t beat Miz and got more and more desperate, I was really enjoying what he was doing. However, when he won the title to avoid the forced retirement, he seemed to revert to regular ol’ “shout about Stealing the Show” Ziggler. And he doesn’t do it for me.

Not that a two week title feud between Ziggler and AJ Styles is a big deal. The match will likely be really fun. It just feels like a missed opportunity to use these two weeks to show that they can run something a bit fresh. Not that Ziggler/AJ is a program we’ve gotten. But Ziggler just lost a featured program and now he’s getting the next title shot. That seems a bit counter intuitive.

They could have used this to build Luke Harper a bit more. A Harper title shot would be an exciting filler feud as we head to the Rumble. For that matter, so would Miz vs. Styles. Even though both are heels, they’ve both got their following and they have been doing such good character work that they would have made it work.

Ziggler/Styles should be OK, but it feels like a letdown given other teased possibilities.

Heel Bliss

Alexa Bliss had an announced match tonight against Deonna Purrazzo, but Bliss wasn’t into any of that. She strode to the ring, told the ring announcer to beat it, instructed the time keeper not to even think about ringing the bell, and said as champion, she’s not going to have this match. She’s not Becky Lynch - she doesn’t do charity cases. She then called Deonna “Jane Ellsworth” prior to cheap-shotting Purrazzo.

That drew out the former Women’s champion Becky Lynch who is still looking for her rematch. She apologized for asking for her rematch last week when Alexa wasn’t ready. But it sure looked like Bliss was ready tonight. She was in ring gear and had a match already planned.

Of course, the champ wasn’t having that either. She said she’ll give Bex her title shot, but it wouldn’t be this night.

Shane McMahon’s music hit and Alexa had a magnificent look on her face of worrying “What is he going to make me do now?” The commish decreed that title match would happen right now, to the delight of the Lass Kicker.

The match ended with Alexa feigning a knee injury and taking a count out. Lynch didn’t buy that it was a legit injury and went after her after the match. (She should have gone after her during the match prior to the count out.) Back in the ring, Bliss’ knee looked fine but she was back to playing it up when she escaped the ring.

Bliss continues to do great character work. She comes out and reconfirms that she’s a heel that we shouldn’t like (though it’s sometimes so hard not to like her). She’s not going to be the champion we want to see, like Becky was. She’s not a good, fighting champion. It’s all about her. Her work as a heel does a good job of getting people to get behind Becky, which is the desire.

Then she feigns an injury to avoid competing in a match she never wanted in the first place. Also great heeling that makes us want to see her possibly get hers (or continue to avoid it for all of the heel lovers out there).

This feud rolls on, which is good since there’s still plenty of life to it.

Hype Train

The Hype Bros won a battle royal to become number one contenders to the Wyatt’s tag titles.

It was your typical battle royal. But here’s the rub: A lot of battle royals suck.

Outside the Royal Rumble (which is great given the entry format creating multiple great moments while keeping the ring less busy), the first part of battle royals is just people throwing some punches and kicks until the herd is thinned. So it’s dependent on the second half to make that first half worth it. And there are some battle royals that have some fire endings. These are the battle royals that play up past feuds and build new ones while building to a great finish. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them.

It had a few notable moments, mainly Heath Slater accidentally eliminating Rhyno, furthering their depressing break up. Other than that, there wasn’t much of note.

Konnor of the Ascension had a pretty good showing and it looks like the Ascension may be treated a bit more seriously. Their face paint is just continuing to get more and more badass and they’re a solid tag team. So they should be given a chance to be more than just enhancement.

Chad Gable was eliminated rather early, which denied American Alpha the chance to show off as a unit before getting eliminated. Jason Jordan had a brief flash, but this was the type of opportunity to remind the fans why they shouldn’t forget about Alpha. Instead, their presence was rather underwhelming here.

Not that Alpha should have won. It’s too soon in the era of the Wyatts to go up against a legit threat like Alpha. The Hype Bros are a perfect next opponent for the Family. The feud will elevate Ryder and Rawley but they’re a team that can lose to the Wyatts no big deal as Orton and Bray start to amass some victims.

(Unfortunately, it was announced afterwards that Zack hurt his knee during this match.)

Who Dun It?

SmackDown’s game of Clue continues as we wonder who attacked Nikki Bella at Survivor Series. The accused (Natalya) faced the accuser (Carmella) in a one on one match, pissed that Carm either falsely accused her or blew up her spot.

Prior to the match, Nattie got on the mic and pleaded to Nikki, who was at ringside, that she didn’t do it. Then she spent much of her match against Carmella shouting “you liar!” to subtly imply she was lying.

The match ended when the participants were out of the ring. It looked like Carm was perhaps going to hit Nikki. Nattie pushed Nikki aside and delivered a forearm to her opponent. However, back in the ring, she was still all about pleading with Nikki on the outside which allowed the Princess of Staten Island to roll her up for the win.

At first, it was too obvious that Nattie was the one who attacked Nikki. And while I still think it’s her, the fact that they’re shining a light on it as the major possibility puts it in doubt. Carmella is an obvious choice, but unfortunately, we pretty much know it’s not her because that program is done (or at least should be). That leaves either Nattie or an unknown third party. It’s a fun enough second women’s story to run during late December WWE lull.

The only issue is it’s a story that relies on people doing some acting and that’s not the strong suit of Nattie, and to a lesser extent Nikki Bella.

Their guest star game is not strong

Gabriel Iglesias was backstage with an unknown, muscular man. Wait, I’m being told his name is Apollo Crews. Miz and Maryse interrupted saying they were being too loud, and made fun of Iglesias’ loud Hawaiian shirt. Fluffy tried to come back with a joke, but he made a “Your Anus” joke, Miz mocked him for it (rightfully so) and left.

If they brought in Iglesias to make Miz and Maryse look more awesome, mission accomplished.

Full disclosure, I’m not a SmackDown super fan. I certainly don’t dislike the show. It’s a consistently solid to good show every week. But it’s not without its flaws. The thin roster forces them to run programs for longer than they probably should and it has kept the top of the card very thin.

That’s why tonight, in a main event that was a pretty good fatal 4-way, it ended with the man who just lost a major feud earning a bigger one, even if the new feud only lasts two weeks.

One thing I do appreciate about SmackDown, aside from the fact it’s not three hours, is the fact that the matches usually have a purpose. At least they did tonight. Nattie had a reason to fight Carmella: She wanted to clear her name (or silence the evidence). The Battle Royal may not have been a great match, but it had the purpose to crown number #1 contenders. There was a Women’s title match. And there was a match that crowned a new #1 contender to AJ’s title.

I also like the fact that SmackDown has more on-air title defenses and will build to super-shows in between PPVs like the show on the 27th. That show doesn’t just have a title match but it has the return of John Cena.

SmackDown puts on a show where the matches have purpose and feels a good fit in two hours. Tonight was just one of their average ones. The “Who Dun It?” bit is entertaining enough, but nothing earth shattering. And I do worry that it will depend too much on Nattie’s character work/acting to pull off. The Battle Royal was one of the more subpar ones, with not many exciting moments for a two segment match. The main event was a fun match, but it feels as if they passed up an opportunity to do something different in the title scene but instead just shuffled the guy from that long IC feud up.

Alexa Bliss still continues to kill it.

Overall, it was an average SmackDown.

Grade: C+++

Tell me why I’m wrong in the comments.

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