WWE SmackDown Live ran its Survivor Series fallout episode in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, last night (Nov. 22, 2016). For full results and the live blog, click here.
All the Pieces Matter
There have been SmackDown Live episodes with better matches, and better promos, and better matches and promos. In fact, no single segment tonight absolutely stood out in a way that things like the Dolphumentary, or their Intercontinental Championship bouts, or the promo battles between AJ Styles, John Cena, and Dean Ambrose have this year. But it's hard to remember any wrestling television episode in any company this year that more consistently hit on a central theme—that had such an absolute clear-cut thesis.
Two days after brand warfare ended—not forgetting some noticeable SmackDown squabbles on Sunday, as well—everyone on the blue brand was looking out for themselves. Everyone had their own agenda. Run ins were constant, disobedience to authority was rampant—and so much was connected.
As just one example: The Miz confronted General Manager Daniel Bryan backstage, and his gloating that it was "Mizgiving" landed him in an Intercontinental Championship defense against Kalisto—which was interrupted by Baron Corbin. Bryan later put The Lone Wolf in a match with Kane as punishment for his actions both last night and at Survivor Series, potentially costing SmackDown Live the Cruiserweight Division. Corbin was well on top of that match—until Kalisto interrupted. Corbin then criticized Bryan on Talking Smack for trying to establish "law and order" but then looking the other way when it was a face doing the interference. And after The Miz had successfully retained thanks to Corbin, The A-Lister was ambushed by Dolph Ziggler, prompting Miz to barge into Bryan's office backstage and demand punishment for Ziggler—but noting that Bryan was just going to give Ziggler another title match, which he promptly did, making a TLC match between the two for the eponymous pay-per-view in 12 days time.
Bryan helped sum it up when he said to Corbin (after he had cost Kalisto his match), "Here on SmackDown Live, actions have consequences." Indeed, they do—and they're clear, and logical.
And it truly went next-level when, on Talking Smack, General Manager Daniel Bryan brought up Ayn Rand's The Virtue of Selfishness only to shoot down its thesis, noting that what he wanted to see on the blue brand wasn't agenda-driven loners, but selfless team players. People like Kalisto, who demanded a chairs match with Corbin at TLC despite knowing how dangerous Corbin was; people like James Ellsworth, who could have signed his SmackDown Live contract but instead put it on the line against AJ Styles in a ladder match, because he wanted to truly earn his spot.
For those who prefer the story-driven model of Tuesday nights, tonight was the quintessential example of why the show has been met with such acclaim. You simply can't get this sort of episode on Mondays—it's not how Raw is structured.
Huge credit goes out to JBL, as well, who hammered the point home on commentary all night long, that things on SmackDown Live were crazy, that there was chaos all around—"this place is out of control!" (And his relentless bashing of Ellsworth was wonderful: "Get it away from me! Is it contagious?!")
Tonight's episode of SmackDown Live felt about as possibly close as you can get in the world of professional wrestling to the narrative-driven, individual episode themed, world of premium cable dramas.
"Always Gets His Man"
Dean Ambrose hit the wackiness hard last night, and much of it seemed to simply be trolling Commissioner Shane McMahon for trolling's sake. Shane became so infuriated at Ambrose's repeated hard slaps to his clearly aching back and rampant insubordination (he had told Dean to leave the arena several times, but Ambrose kept reappearing) that eventually he had to leave before he did something "he would regret." Expect that to be a plot line going forward—especially since a particular SmackDown legend just last week had threatened anyone who put the success of the blue brand at risk. (That very same legend who, to start that segment, put over Shane as the ideal commissioner. Hmm, wonder if that newfound respect for Shane might play a role in the weeks to come ...)
But cosplaying as The Mountie and telling Daniel Bryan to relay the message to WWE World Champion AJ Styles that "The Mountie Always Gets His Man" was both delightful and on point.
Shane opened the show and noted the dissension within the ranks on Sunday night, which caused Ambrose to appear. Shane, clearly annoyed, pointedly called out Dean for his "mini-Shield reunion" at Survivor Series, before Ambrose then called out James Ellsworth to receive a "surprise" (which Dean promptly spoiled, that Ellsworth was receiving an official contract). The commissioner had finally had enough, and sent Ambrose away—only for AJ Styles to then make his way to the ring.
AJ suggested that Shane should go one further and kick Dean off SmackDown Live, and that he shouldn't give Ellsworth the contract. With his arguments unpersuasive to McMahon, Styles instead took another angle.
Having taken great offense to the suggestion that Ellsworth deserved anything, AJ said that if Ellsworth wanted to "deserve" his contract, he should face Styles in a TLC warm-up ladder match—with his contract on the line. Though Shane suggested he didn't have to take the offer, Ellsworth instead accepted (noting that he'd already beaten Styles twice) and also demanded that if he won, he would get a shot at the WWE World Championship.
Upon his acceptance, Styles threw his arms in the air in utter exultation (as seen in the picture above), and JBL on commentary shouted, "YES, YES, WE HAVE SEEN THE LAST OF THAT HUMAN SLUG!"
(It does seem odd that the commissioner would let Ellsworth compete in a ladder match given all his injuries.)
The ladder match itself was yet another demonstration on why AJ Styles is the best wrestler on the planet—and of the year. His unending cruelty toward Ellsworth, and such obvious joy in harming The Chinless Wonder, was truly diabolical: When he noticed that not only was Ellsworth wearing a neck brace (which he had already torn off), but even a brace around his midsection, a light bulb immediately went off. He wasted literally zero time in hitting Ellsworth in a backbreaker, and then repeatedly, viciously kicked his opponents' ribcage.
He's such a jerk, and it is wonderful.
Later in the match, when Ellsworth pushed the ladder over, he took an absolutely insane-looking bump to the outside—in a ladder match with James Ellsworth on a random television episode! When he attempted to get back in the ring, he was hit with No Chin Music, and managed to perfectly wrap his foot between the ropes—allowing Ellsworth to climb, slowly, and retrieve his contract, with Styles all the while utterly furious.
Ellsworth and Ambrose celebrated in the ring to close the show—a show that saw James Ellsworth go 3-0 up in matches against AJ Styles, and gave him a future opportunity at the WWE World Championship—with much thanks to his buddy Dean.
Ambrose's booking in the last two years hasn't exactly been the best—going into the brand split, he was clearly positioned behind both his Shield brothers. But the large amount of time and focus, meaningful feuds, and mostly consistent characterization he's gotten on Tuesdays have put him in a much better place than either Roman Reigns (the biggest heel in the company despite being a face) or Seth Rollins (in the middle of a foundering, at best, face turn) are currently.
Back to Normal
Forget that brand loyalty nonsense. Last night, SmackDown Live got back to advancing the two best women's feuds in the company.
Alexa Bliss caught up with Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan backstage to once again raise the issue of getting another match against Becky Lynch for the SmackDown Live Women's Championship. Bryan quickly fled the scene, noting that he was too busy, but that Shane could help her (which he seemed more than a bit frightened with—that small little thing helps get Bliss over as the terrifying Five Feet of Fury that she is, very well).
Before she could complain too much, Lynch arrived, and said that Bliss indeed would get her rematch at "TLC-ya then." The pair started to bicker before a series of whistle blasts heralded Natalya's arrival on the scene. She told Shane that she stayed up late with 2paws watching footage, and had determined that SmackDown Live's loss in the women's Survivor Series match was Becky's fault, because she was "threatened by Alexa." (Bliss quickly added, "Yeah, Becky, I'm in your head!") The champ fired back at the pair, of course using a "straight fire" pun, to which Bliss gave a patented epic eye-roll. Natalya attempted to calm the situation by quoting "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion, annoying Bliss and prompting her to leave the scene. Shane made a match for later between Becky and Natalya.
Dean Ambrose then waltzed in, pizza in hand, clearly frustrating Shane with his return. He was once again sent away by the commissioner, but Becky called out that she would see him later, after she took a "pizza" of Natalya's arm.
He responded, off-camera: "Heard it. Loved it!"
In the brief match, Becky tapped Natalya, but was immediately set upon by Bliss, who floored her with a DDT and stood tall.
My. God. Alexa. Her profile is exploding on Tuesday nights, with many thanks to her remarkable emoting skills. Tonight she even put in an excellent stint on commentary, clearly explaining the status of her feud with Becky, why she held her personal belief that she'd been wronged, savaging David Otunga ("You’re supposed to be a Harvard lawyer. If that’s the kind of evidence you use, you’re going to lose every case."), and even responded to Mauro Ranollo's question of "Who attacked Nikki Bella?" with a properly dismissive "I don't know, and I don't care." And she seems to be the only person on the entire show that harbors the correct amount of angry exasperation toward Natalya's song lyrics gimmick. Alexa just can't even with Nattie.
She's a star.
In the division's other notable feud, Nikki Bella approached Carmella backstage and blamed her arch-rival for the attack on Sunday night that cost her the chance to fight at Survivor Series. Carmella flatly denied this, saying "Every time I attack you I take credit for it." Regardless, Nikki told The Princess of Staten Island that, after talking to her brother-in-law, their feud would be settled in a No Disqualification match at TLC. (It's so nice for fans to see the logical conclusion to a story weeks in advance—this No DQ match at TLC was suggested ages ago—and then actually get that conclusion. Things making sense is good, who would have guessed?)
Alpha Brothers and The Family
American Alpha won a six-team Tag Team Turmoil match to become the number one contender for Heath Slater and Rhyno's SmackDown Live Tag team Championships ... or did they?
Chad Gable and Jason Jordan were the clear stars in this match, entering the match as the fourth team and eliminating Breezango, The Vaudevillains, and finally The Usos to win the contest. (The Hype Bros had earlier eliminated The Ascension, and were then eliminated by Breezango.) Immediately after dispatching The Usos to close the match, the new Wyatt Family appeared on the tron. Bray Wyatt suggested they "don't be so quick to celebrate, friends. You haven't faced all the tag teams." Randy Orton followed by saying, "We're not just a team. We're a family," before Wyatt closed by saying "Me and Randy are coming for you. RUN."
On Talking Smack, Gable and Jordan countered that they were also a family—that they were brothers, and had each other's backs no matter what.
Alpha will face off with Wyatt and Orton next week to determine the true number one contender. Alpha's long-expected push has been kept on hold due to Slater and Rhyno's huge success, and it seems unlikely that they'll win next week. Having Alpha beat the beloved babyface champions isn't a smart idea to get them over in a big way, which is clearly the end goal here. But they've also been protected very well on Tuesdays, so expect Luke Harper to make a definitive contribution to the outcome of the match next week.
(No #TopGuysTuesdays quite yet.)
All the rest
As noted above, The Miz defeated Kalisto via pinfall to retain the Intercontinental Championship after Corbin had distracted the luchador. Corbin then laid out Kalisto with a devastating End of Days.
Later, Corbin defeated Kane via disqualification after Kalisto intervened. The Lone Wolf ate a chokeslam and then got hit with a chair-assisted enziguri.
There will be "better" episodes of SmackDown Live this year that will get, and have gotten, worse grades. (And this grade continuously rose throughout the course of writing this review.) But the singular focus, that was the focus of virtually every segment, and was finally, perfectly, fully fleshed out on Talking Smack, was extraordinary. It's just not a thing that professional wrestling produces.