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WWE SmackDown Live Recap & Reactions (Dec. 20, 2016): This Show Is Too Good

'Twas the week before Christmas, and WWE SmackDown Live hit Detroit last night (Dec. 20, 2016), promising two title matches, a celebrity guest appearance, and more. For full results and the live blog from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.


So, uh. Yeah.

About this show.

It was pretty good.

Pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.


A dish served cold

The long awaited clash between AJ Styles and James Ellsworth for the WWE Championship did not disappoint.

Indeed, it was a night of sweet revenge for Styles, who promptly geeked out Ellsworth in a matter of seconds with only a few strikes and pinned him with his fingertips. The perfect blowoff to this story. Perfect.

But Styles was far from finished. The champ who runs the camp took his time to dish out even more pain to Ellsworth post-match, including throwing him headfirst into the frame of the ring, slingshotting the chinless one's throat into the bottom of the ring, dropping him literally head first on the edge of the announce table, and snap suplexing him into the barricade.


The beating was clearly cathartic for Styles, who grabbed a mic and said that destruction "had been a long time coming." He noted that he had nothing left to accomplish in 2016, and that it was time for AJ Styles to ring in the new year.

This brought out Dolph Ziggler, his challenger next week for the championship. Dolph proceeded to give his standard "rah rah I'm Dolph Ziggler" promo, which AJ casually shot down by noting that he was a complete loser.

As the pair exchanged words, Ellsworth was wheeled out on a stretcher in the background. What a brilliant symbolic end to Ellsworth's involvement in the main event angle.

Ziggler said he put his career on the line for the Intercontinental Championship, so he would do anything for the world title—but at this moment Baron Corbin's music hit, and the Lone Wolf made his way to the ring.

Corbin, who for weeks now has demanded to be put into the main event scene, rhetorically asked "How many chances are they going to give you, little man?" Ziggler called the much-larger Corbin "kid" and said he had "earned" his championship shot while Corbin was out last week receiving his award for "Most Metal Athlete" at the Revolver Music Awards.

Corbin responded:

Earning? The only reason why you earned anything is because I wasn’t here. So next week, when you face AJ for that title, you will lose. Because that’s what you do, Dolph. You don’t steal the show. You steal opportunities, and you waste them. So next week? ...

Corbin promptly punched Ziggler in the face. Ziggler attempted to fight back, but walked right into a devastating End of Days. The crowd chanted for "one more time," and Corbin acknowledged them, lifting one finger in response—and then in characteristic fashion, dismissively waved away their request.

Styles watched the entire exchange with a sly smile.

Ziggler, because he's Dolph Ziggler, approached General Manager Daniel Bryan backstage and demanded a match with Corbin. Bryan tried to tell The Show Off to calm down, accurately stating that Corbin was laying a trap, but Ziggler had none of it. He wanted Corbin—even when Bryan noted that if he lost, The Lone Wolf would get the WWE Championship match next week, not him.

Ziggler said that is indeed what he wanted and that he had nothing to lose.

Bryan merely sighed.

In the main event, with Styles on commentary, Corbin brought the thunder to Ziggler, using his power to great advantage—using a clothesline that made JBL proud on commentary, and a Deep Six (more like a Deep Eighteen to be honest). The best thing about the match was Styles' change in attitude on commentary—going from initially expressing zero care about who his opponent was next week, and then slowly more and more cheering for Ziggler to overcome as he witnessed Corbin's impressive power display. It was a bit that did so much for both Styles and Corbin.

At the end of the contest, Corbin and Ziggler brawled outside, ultimately resulting in Corbin throwing Ziggler into Styles—whom The Lone Wolf was glowering and barking at all match long. The chaos resulted in a double countout, but neither Ziggler nor Corbin could complain before Styles proceeded to repeatedly wail on both with a chair. This brought out Bryan, who announced that the championship match next week was being turned into a triple threat, now including Corbin. Styles was none too pleased about this development.

Barely over a year ago, the knock on Corbin was that he couldn't wrestle a match longer than thirty seconds. Now he's one of the more consistently good workers in the company, with a clear and engaging character. That improvement has been amplified by a presentation that has sold him as a legitimate threat at every turn. And it is hugely refreshing to see a red hot talent being pushed, instead of cooled off.

It's hard to express just how naturally and effectively SmackDown has made Baron Corbin into a main event type talent.


La Generica

One week after quitting her SmackDown Live Women's Championship defense due to a "tweaked knee," Alexa Bliss approached Daniel Bryan backstage and wondered what "punishment" he would dole out to Becky Lynch, who had hurt her so badly.

Unfortunately for her, Bryan had just gotten off the phone with the trainer, who said the champion was "100 percent healthy." In fact, he was happy to announce that Becky's "punishment" would be a Women's Championship match next week in Chicago. And even better, since she ducked out of her match last week, he was giving her competition tonight—and if she wanted to walk out again, she wouldn't have to worry about defending the title next week, as he would strip it from her.

Lexi responded as only Lexi can (and many thanks to @totaldivaseps for their superlative Twitter game).

Bliss told Bryan that "whatever happens to whatever poor little soul is out there tonight is on you." Alexa has a tendency to get viciously nasty in squash matches, so it was far from an idle threat.

But she wasn't facing just any jobber. Bliss would face off with La Luchadora, who ... oh, that's totally Becky Lynch in that mask, isn't it.

Yeah, that's totally Becky Lynch.

JBL tried to claim La Luchadora was a relative of Mil Mascaras, but come on. That's so Becky!

La Luchadora stymied Alexa early, continuously rolling out of the way of her strikes. Throughout the contest, it was so plainly and delightfully Becky's voice through the mask. What a ball. This segment was quintessential pro wrestling, with a snarky, clever face getting the better of the Witch Queen heel.

Unsurprisingly, La Luchadora caught the champion in a seated Fujiwara armbar, which just so happens to be the finisher of ... Becky Lynch. Bliss was forced to tap out, and she sat despondently in the corner while La Luchadora celebrated with the fans like a complete geek—before rolling back into the ring and revealing the obvious truth.

The only disappointing thing about this segment is it made one wonder why Becky doesn't always wrestle like the greatest female professional wrestler on the planet that she apparently is.

Becky Lynch was in a damn mask, people. Come on. How is that not the greatest thing ever other than maybe the other greatest things ever on this show? Then she went on Talking Smack and told a bunch of Christmas puns!

She's the damn best. Put all the titles on her. Unify the two women's championships and put that title on her.



The right message

The Miz successfully defended his Intercontinental Championship versus Apollo Crews. This was one of Crews' best matches since his call up in April, as his offense here looked vastly more fluid and impactful. The finish came shortly after Maryse was caught attempting to interfere and banished from ringside. Unfortunately for Crews, when he went to grab Miz for his powerbomb finisher, The A Lister flipped over the challenger, "accidentally" catching referee Mike Chioda with his boot. He then used the opening to poke Crews in the eye and hit him with a Skull Crushing Finale to retain.

But it was after the match when things got real. Renee Young attempted to interview The Miz about his victory, and his growing "obsession" with Dean Ambrose, and, well ...

My obsession with Dean Ambrose? Maybe we should talk about your obsession with Dean Ambrose. After all, you’re the one sleeping with him.


Renee did not take this lightly, immediately smacking The Miz across the face and storming off. The garbage heel insulting a woman for her sexuality immediately got punished. At no point was The Miz made to look sympathetic or as the good guy here.

Imagine that.

She explained her actions backstage shortly thereafter.

(And using the extremely skilled Young as more of an active talent is an inspired choice.)

Later, Dean Ambrose scored a shock pinfall victory over Luke Harper, but was immediately set upon by Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton. Ambrose is utterly without friends on SmackDown Live, and there was zero answer to the beat down he received—well, except for The Greatest of All Time (aka The Miz), who returned to give Dean a Skull Crushing Finale because why the hell not, pose over him with the championship aloft, and tenderly kiss his loving wife.

Sheer and utter brilliance.


Nattie done it

Turns out the least surprising option to the wrestling world's biggest "Who Done It" of the SmackDown Live era was the best.

Natalya Neidhart, geez. Who knew she had that heel promo in her this whole time?

Nattie again wished to clear the air with her "friend" Nikki Bella, that she was not the mystery attacker at Survivor Series. She called Nikki to the ring, but before either could get a word in edgewise, Carmella appeared. The Princess of Staten Island walked to the ring, sarcastically draped herself over the top rope from the apron, and told the pair, "Oh, uh, don't mind me"—that she was merely there to hear what lies Natalya would tell.

When Nikki wondered why she should trust Carm, the faux-mafioso again noted that she would have openly bragged about it had it been her, and that "It’s time you stopped daydreaming about the Saturday Night Live afterparty and realize your little friend here Nattie is a liar. Or has some of that silicone leaked up into your brain?"

Good lord! This recent shift into more edgy language has worked like a charm on SmackDown, because the characters saying bad things are clear heels, their words are obviously meant to be seen as awful, and they either immediately (The Miz tonight) or totally (Carmella decisively losing her feud with Nikki) receive their deserved comeuppance. There are no mixed messages being sent on Tuesdays.

When Nattie told Carmella not to "talk to her friend" like that, Carmella laid out the truth:

Did you or did you not tell me that someone needed to teach Nikki a lesson? ... Or hey, remember Nattie when you said the only reason the Bella twins are in the WWE is because nobody cared about them when they tried to make it on their own?

Nattie slowly turned her head to Carmella, gritted her teeth and angrily said, "That was something I said to you in private ... You are a dirty, little, Staten Island snitch."

Carmella, on the apron, was delightfully hamming it up the whole time. Natalya rushed to chase after her, and caught up to Carmella in the entryway, where she threw the truth-teller into a fake Christmas tree and a pile of presents. But Carmella escaped, and Nattie was left to finally own up her crime. As a "Nikki Bella" chant started, and Nikkisawa herself displayed her most crushed face, Natalya spilled the tea:

"All right. I did it, you bitch."

Whoa there.

I have always despised you. I am Natalya Neidhart. I am wrestling royalty. You are not. Nikki, you may be the longest reigning Divas Champion in WWE history. But you and your sister got everything because you're beautiful... you got the magazine covers, you got to walk red carpets, you got the Total Divas spin off—that should have been me! And you didn't get it because you've got a great personality. You've got no charisma, my cat has more charisma than you. YEAH, BITCH. You are nothing. And that's why John will never marry you!

Nikki was aghast, blown away by the fact her "friend" was outed as a total fraud.

Carmella, though, was not finished on the show quite just yet.

Later, when Dasha Fuentes attempted to interview a broken and battered James Ellsworth—who could only grunt in response—Carmella, of all people, unexpectedly showed up and pretended to express concern for poor James, and said that she would take care of him. Carmella using Ellsworth as her pawn is an unbelievable, completely unexpected direction, and a brilliant use of The Man With Two Hands.

This is great.

The claim has been made that Alexa Bliss was the "steal" of the brand split draft, but those who knew Bliss' work were well aware of her talent. In fact, it is Carmella who has been the biggest surprise, because her performance since turning heel has been unbelievably fluid, natural, and nuanced—which, to be entirely fair, couldn't really be said about her NXT work.

Also, we live in a world where John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. James Ellsworth and Carmella is a real possibility.


All the rest

The new Wyatt Family will defend their tag team championships next week in a Four Corners Elimination match next week on an absolutely loaded episode of SmackDown Love.

Mojo Rawley defeated Curt Hawkins with Ryan Philippe on commentary. This was fine, and it's nice to see that they're still using Mojo despite Zach Ryder's injury, as the Hype Bro has a lot to offer the program.

Rhyno cosplayed as Santa on Talking Smack, creepily hit on Renee Young, got drunk and handed out presents to Young and Bryan (Bryan, in a wonderful reference, was given a "small package"), and belched and farted.

It sounds dumb, but somehow worked like magic.


How. Just how? How is this show this good? This is supposed to be a holiday lull, and the blue brand is out here putting on show of the year contenders like it's no big deal.

Grade: N/A—SmackDown Live is off the grading scale

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