After weeks of exceptional build, WWE SmackDown Live ran its No Mercy pay-per-view last night (Oct. 9, 2016) in Sacramento, California. For full results and the live blog from the incredible Reverend Kain, click here.
Styles Outwits His Foes
AJ Styles needs to claim on Tuesday he deliberately tapped out while locked in dual submissions, knowing that it wouldn't end the match, to trick his opponents into thinking they'd won. Give him that agency, WWE. Make him that wickedly smart and devious.
This was far from a psychological masterpiece, but it was a very fun "moves" match and the sequencing was frequently spectacular. AJ Styles is on another level to the rest of the world in the squared circle, but both Cena and Ambrose also raised their game.
The big story here is that Dean Ambrose and John Cena are going to rip each other's heads off, and I have to imagine it'll be a lot of fun. Ambrose had previously stopped Styles from tapping—literally grabbing AJ's hand and holding it off the mat—when Cena had the champion locked into the STF. And when Ambrose had reversed AJ's attempt at a calf crusher, placing him in his own submission, Cena jumped onto Styles and applied the STF, forcing the champ to make a dual tap—which in fact made any such submission null and void, given there was no clear determined winner.
(Why Cena didn't just clonk Ambrose, toss him out of the ring, and then apply the STF for the win is another story. Sometimes pro wrestling is gonna be pro wrestling. Given that everything else around that head scratcher made a lot of sense and told the right story, I'm OK with that bit of silliness.)
It's important to note that the timekeeper rang the bell, but Mike Chioda had never signaled the match to be over after seeing Styles tap.
One important note is that given other results, Styles doesn't have an opponent going forward. Maybe they'll manage to avoid a title match at Survivor Series, but with Randy Orton losing tonight, it seems unlikely he'd be able to finish his feud with Bray Wyatt before a potential bout with Styles at TLC.
And for the record, I think it made perfect sense to open with this match, considering they wanted the world title match to avoid running up against the presidential debate—and it would allow the hottest feud in the company to close the show.
Well, this was excellent... maybe.
This was the clear match of the night, and a real home run. The crowd completely bought several near falls, and were vocal throughout. (A very loud and extended "Let's Go Ziggler / Let's Go Miz" dueling chant has to warrant a "2016" exclamation.) Involving both Maryse and the Spirit Squad, and having Ziggler still overcome in the end, gave him a real babyface spirit.
Why on earth this didn't main event over a listless Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt match is bemusing. It's been one of the more emotional programs in recent WWE history, with Miz drawing several very heated "coward" chants, continuously cheating his way out of a paper bag to retain the Intercontinental Championship, and Ziggler forced to put his entire career on the line as a result.
If anything other than a world title match was going to close the show, this was the match to place in that spot. Clearly. And it would have raised the stakes of the stipulation even more—perhaps they were giving Ziggler a main event match to send him off? Worse, not having this match end the show undercut what the feud is about—the preeminent importance of the Intercontinental Championship.
That's a big, big error.
Furthermore, using The Miz' heat—and potential heat of retiring his opponent—to put over Dolph Ziggler could potentially make what has been a certain Feud of the Year candidate limply fizzle out. After all, Dolph Ziggler remains ... well, Dolph Ziggler. That his performances in this feud have been emotionally charged and very strong is clear—but whether he can rise to the occasion when his entire career isn't on the line is definitely unanswered.
I've got little doubt that The Miz will continue to showcase his excellent form. But few wrestlers have been more hit or miss in recent years than Ziggler—and there's been far more misses than hits. A lot of those failings may be on creative, but he's not exactly put on inspiring performances, neither.
Having The Miz on the verge of crying after losing his Intercontinental Championship was a wonderful humanizing touch. Yes, it's The Miz. We know he's a tremendous jerk. But he was out to make the secondary title mean something again, and succeeding. Losing the title should rightfully mean a lot to him, and he showed that—and it sets him up to be even more diabolical toward Ziggler in the months to come.
You just can't help but wonder whether this was the right call.
Please Heal Fast (and Fully), Becky Lynch
Becky Lynch is out injured, and thus was unable to defend her SmackDown Live Women's Championship match tonight against Alexa Bliss. That match has been postponed to the November 8 episode of SmackDown Live in Glasgow, Scotland.
Thankfully, SmackDown Live didn't have their babyface champion unnecessarily drop the title in a big spot because of incomplete—and invalid—information. She is indeed out hurt, so they didn't risk her health even further to put her in a match just to switch the belt onto Bliss in order to have an active champion.
For all we know, Bliss might have completely botched a spot and dropped Becky right onto her neck, risking catastrophic damage.
Instead, we got an Alexa vs. Naomi filler match ... in which Naomi pinned the number one contender.
This result makes sense if Naomi is added to the title match next month (which Daniel Bryan hinted at on Talking Smack)—adding another person allows Becky to largely sit out the match, engage in minimal physical contact, but still win to retain her championship. Otherwise, it makes Alexa look a chump.
It also didn't help that Bliss and Naomi had poor chemistry, but there's not really much the showrunners could have done in this spot. One sympathizes with their plight, and especially respects that they didn't make a panic move that would hurt the credibility of their top babyface champion.
Delaying the Inevitable—With Reason
It's a long way to Wrestlemania.
The SmackDown Live tag team title program in Orlando next April will be The Usos vs. American Alpha. They've already done an impressive job of laying the groundwork for that feud, despite them not battling over the titles yet. The heel Usos have been a huge success, and Alpha are future standard-bearers for the main roster's tag team division.
So keeping the titles on Heath Slater and Rhyno here makes sense—overloading your show with unliked heel champions is likely to make your product, and the crowd, overly negative. The Usos holding the belts for an extended period of time isn't necessary—it's only important that they go into Wrestlemania as hated figures to be vanquished by the conquering heroes.
Heath Slater's energy in the ring continues to impress (avalanche powerslam, my God). I've said it before, but it reminds one of any worker in any environment busting their butt while up for a promotion—to prove that they deserve a better spot. "Heath's Got Kids" is a delightfully fun chant, too.
This wasn't a particularly great match, but the result kept things above water in the short term while also preparing for the long term. (The result also made more sense to me when I had figured The Miz was retiring Ziggler.)
Having a Wrestle, ft. Luke Harper
So this is a thing that happened.
Look, this match had no business main eventing. The entire build has been about mind games, and getting inside each other's heads, and creepy and mysterious events. And then Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton went out and had an emotionless wrestle.
This was bad. There's nothing important to say about this match if you've seen even one Randy Orton or Bray Wyatt match in the last several years. Luke Harper showed up at the end, which is a surprise return, but nowhere near big enough of one to justify this going on last over an extremely heated career vs. title match that had been the talk of the industry.
The feud has been strange, though I've been enjoying their segments of late. It's surely not over, but that's part of the problem. Once again, Bray Wyatt has gotten a win in an important feud that he's not going to win. (I suppose you could run a Wyatt-Styles interim world champion feud, but that seems a lot less likely to work than Orton-Styles.)
Nikki Bella and Carmella had no favors handed to them when they were tasked with going on after the WWE World Championship match. They did what they could, but the spot on the card, and the fact this budding blood feud—which had people salivating at the idea of a No Disqualification match—just ran a regular contest, with a clean finish (Nikki winning), hurt.
Hopefully Carmella can amp up her psychopathy on Tuesday night and ramp this battle between the two even more. Expect some sort of stipulation match at TLC in December for these two—and what's more, I fully expect both the writers and performers to get us to that spot organically.
A Surprisingly Good Match: The Baron Corbin Story
Baron Corbin continues to overdeliver in pay-per-view matches.
It was a wonderful bit of heeling to have Corbin escape Jack Swagger's Patriot Lock by crawling all the way to the ring apron and pulling it onto the mat—forcing the referee to put it back, which allowed the Lone Wolf to sneak in a thumb to the eye and then follow with a particularly impressive End of Days for the victory.
But the rest of the contest was also good, with Corbin viciously working Swagger's fingers after having pinning his hand between the ring steps and the apron and then kicking the steps.
Suspect we'll also be getting more of these two, but that's no complaint. In terms of hoss-on-hoss, this was pretty darn good.
Hyping the Crowd
It's so easy for this sort of match on the pre-show to just go through the motions
The finishing sequence was what this was all about, with a really fun "everyone hits their finisher" sequence ended by a Grand Amplitude out of nowhere (but with Jordan, as the legal man, pinning Aiden English).
Mojo Rawley remains a treat in these tag matches. His ridiculous dancing to the corner and then instructing his three tag partners to "DUCK!" while he rang English's bell was truly enjoyable, as are his barrel rolls to stop opponents from making tags.
Curt Hawkins, Weird Dude
Again: Curt Hawkins is a weird dude. And he's apparently wrestling Tuesday on SmackDown Live. Kinda hope he jobs to Kane and then never shows up again.
Talking Smack was uneventful and not particularly interesting, though Daniel Bryan did hint at adding Naomi to the forthcoming Becky Lynch-Alexa Bliss title match next month.
It's hard to rate a show that ran two exceptional matches just "decent." But unfortunately the blue brand managed that feat tonight.
This is partially an incomplete grade, admittedly—if Naomi is indeed added to the SmackDown Live Women's Championship match on November 8 in order to protect Becky from having to be too physically involved, it makes sense. And if somehow Bray Wyatt comes out of this with a huge monster push and goes over Orton in this feud and Luke Harper is a big part of that, OK. And if somehow Dolph Ziggler remains interesting—though another complete bust segment on Talking Smack doesn't help his case—in the months to come, then that result makes some sense.
Add in the puzzling card placement (not the main event opening, that made perfect sense), and SmackDown Live had more misses in a night than they had in the last month.