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WWE SmackDown Live preview (July 23, 2019): The perfect opponent

SmackDown Live returns to us tonight (July 23) from the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida as they build their way to SummerSlam in three weeks.

The Headliner:

Kofi Kingston needs a SummerSlam opponent for his WWE championship. WWE had advertised that Kofi will make his challenge for the big pay-per-view tonight. But if you read the tea leaves, or really just watched last week’s 6-man tag, you’re probably guessing Randy Orton is going to be the man that challenges Kofi for the WWE title at SummerSlam.

And it’s really a perfect choice.

Here’s why:

1) He’s a believable threat to take the title

Kofi has had the title for almost four months and not once did I ever fear he was in real dangerous in losing it. The closest was when Daniel Bryan got a sudden rematch when they introduced the Wild Card rule. It was possible they’d want to do a sudden change on TV to show fans anything can happen. But outside, that, Kofi has been a strong odds on favorite.

Kevin Owens’ sudden heel turn felt too rushed for him to take the title. Then there was Dolph Ziggler, who was never a threat given his part time status and... c’mon it’s Dolph Ziggler. And as for Samoa Joe, the man’s MO in WWE is talking a big game but never delivering when it counts.

But Randy Orton is always a threat to win the title when he’s challenging for it. He’s a 13 time world champion. They trust him with the strap. Kofi is no longer such an odds on favorite.

And that’s important. Some uncertainty in the finish raises the stakes of everything. We can buy into what they’re selling more because we don’t know what’s going to happen.

This would be the first real challenge Kingston has faced since winning the belt.

2) Kofi still definitely has a chance

The other side of that coin is it’s not a clear end of Kofi’s title reign. If Kingston were to go up against say Roman Reigns, I’d probably be thinking the ride is over. But Orton isn’t any guarantee to win it.

If there were five years ago, it’d be different. But Randy is in a part time role and it’s just as likely that he loses clean in the ring as it is he wins it.

Picking an opponent that could be both the end of the line but also another chapter in the longer story is perfect. It would be a bit deflating for fans knowing that Kofi has little chance walking out of SummerSlam still champ.

3) They have a history

This is the most enticing part of an Orton/Kingston feud.

Ten years back when WWE initially gave Kofi a push, it was against Orton. It all seemed to be going swimmingly, including a really fun MSG beatdown from Kingston to Randy. But then it came to a halt. The story goes that a botch from Kofi and some ring rage from Orton ended Kofi’s push then and there.

Obviously this has never been confirmed by either man, but that doesn’t matter. Even if that story isn’t entirely accurate, it only matters that the fans believe it. It’s a great real world story that can be intertwined into the angle.

The Viper subtlety alluded to it in one of Kofi’s gauntlet matches prior to WrestleMania when he shouted “Stupid!” mid-match like he did during the incident a decade back. For a SummerSlam feud, they can play it up a bit more. Don’t go overboard with it, but allude to Orton ending Kingston’s ascension enough to make this personal.

Randy saying something like “I stopped your rise ten years ago and I’m going to do it again now” could put some heat into the Big Four title match.

The Title Scene:

Bayley challenged Ember Moon to fight her at SummerSlam for her SmackDown Women’s championship. This will be Ember’s first big match on the main roster. Unfortunately, Ember hasn’t been in the spotlight much so they need to build her up in the few weeks prior to SummerSlam to make this feel bigger than Bayley giving someone lower on the card a shot.

Ali made his intentions for the Intercontinental championship known when he interrupted champ Shinsuke Nakamura backstage. His promo videos that were airing the weeks prior featured him talking about the WWE title, but you gotta start somewhere, right?

The New Day are also looking for challengers for their SmackDown tag team championships. Last week, they were on the losing end of that 6-man tag alongside Kingston. And while Kofi getting pinned by Orton was the big takeaway, the other two victors were Samoa Joe and Elias. Those two aren’t a team (and Joe isn’t even an SmackDown talent), but they worked well together. Could they be the next challengers? Will AOP return to try for the silver? Or will it be Heavy Machinery again?

The Women’s tag team champion IIconics took a count out against the Kabuki Warriors to retain their titles. We’ll probably do this match again in a couple months or something.

Other things to keep an eye on:

- Shane will address Stone Cold Kevin Owens for his Rattlesnake like actions the last couple weeks. Hopefully, he’s been practicing taking the Stunner.

- Liv Morgan promised she’s going to go away and find herself after losing to Charlotte last week. Usually takes longer than a week to do so, but you never know.

- Speaking of the Queen, she still doesn’t have any program heading into SummerSlam. But she is known to insert herself into title matches at the Biggest Party of the Summer.

- Daniel Bryan denied us his big announcement and now WWE isn’t teasing it any more. Is it even still happening?

- HBK on commentary!

Welcome to SmackDown in Miami, where Eric Bischoff may or may not have any impact on the on air product tonight at 8 ET.

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