WWE SmackDown hit Miami last night (June 30, 2016). With a large portion of the roster in Hawaii, the show ran fewer segments, instead showcasing a few performers multiple times. For full results and the live blog, click here.
The show opens with four short promos from Cesaro, Apollo Crews (who really needs to stop being so smiley), Alberto Del Rio, and Sheamus, with all proclaiming they would win their Fatal Four Way match and become the new Number One contender for the United States Championship held by Rusev. It's a smart opening and gets the show off on a right note, even though none of the four are particularly great talkers. When a product is stale, sometimes just being different for the sake of being different is a breath of fresh air.
The Fatal Four Way match is fun (a blind-side cannonball on the outside by Cesaro to Sheamus was a great spot), and Cesaro making Del Rio tap to the sharpshooter is a welcome result. Sheamus and Crews seem fit to continue their feud, as they put themselves out of the finish by being too focused on each other. Del Rio ambushes Cesaro post-match, throwing him into the ring steps and then hitting his double foot stomp from the apron, crashing Cesaro's back hard onto the floor.
I can't help but think that Alberto Del Rio would be a really good WWE talent if he could get people to care about him even one bit. Apollo Crews, for his part, is desperately in need of some character and personality. He's just ... there. And Sheamus, well, his promo was cut for some bizarre reason while he was fixing his mohawk in what appeared to be a public men's restroom. Very good wrestler, but again, no one cares.
Cesaro is in clear pain after Del Rio's attack, noticeably selling his left shoulder and ribcage. That he has a match later against Rusev is a scary proposition—made even worse by the fact that Rusev comes out and chooses to make the match right then.
"Congratulations for achieving the highest glory in (sic) man's life: Facing me for the United States Championship. Enjoy this moment, because it's about to end. If you're truly the Swiss Superman, you will accept my challenge and face me right now." Cesaro is attended to by referees at ringside, but when Rusev calls him a coward, Cesaro slowly turns back to the ring and agrees to the match.
They proceed to have a very fun 12 minute battle. Cesaro is a fantastic worker, we all know, but Rusev is up there with the best as well. There's a neat sequence when Cesaro attempts a crossbody from the top rope and is caught by Rusev, who then hits the Swiss with a spinning slide slam. He then follows it up with a somersault senton (!) which gets a two count. Cesaro sells his injuries throughout the match, being unable to use his left for any uppercuts and is unable to power his opponent into the Gotch Neutralizer.
At one point toward the end, Rusev rolls too far back when going for the Super Accolade and Cesaro uses his momentum to flip over the Bulgarian—very nearly winning the championship. Shortly thereafter, he eats a spinkick and is tossed into the Accolade, and is forced to tap.
Their match is a reminder of how insanely deep and talented this roster is, and how little they're given to work with. The show should have fun little programs like this all the time, not once in awhile (if that). NXT has done this well: in 2014 they had a strong main event program in Zayn-Neville, which they pushed hard. In late 2014 and 2015 they had a strong women's program, and pushed that division big time. From July 2015 all the way until TakeOver: London, they pushed Bayley as the centerpiece of the show. Now, they're heavily focusing on the tag team division.
When one part of your program is weak—and let's face it, bad booking or not, none of the three Shield guys come close to the star power of a John Cena or A.J. Styles, who WWE seemingly doesn't want to make the main event—push another aspect harder. (It's another reason why hopefully the company starts treating the women's division a whole lot better, because the two young wrestlers with the most legitimate starpower are both women.) The WWE upper midcard title scene is stacked with an enormous amount of talent, and yet are so commonly treated as an afterthought.
Rusev is an immense character worker and dominant heel, and yet often is forgotten. The man carried a TV monitor backstage at the Royal Rumble and started calling himself the new TV champion. He threw a dead fish at Lana. He mocked Titus O'Neil's kids to their faces on Father's Day.
Forget the U.S. Championship. Put the belt on Rusev.
When confronted by Renee Young after the match (as the Bulgarian is heard saying, "Rusev is the greatest of all time"), the U.S. Champion proceeds to note that he's the greatest United States Champion and a Real American Hero, the coming July 4th holiday should be renamed from Independence Day to Rusev Day, and that while "you Americans are shoving processed meat in your faces and shooting off fireworks in the name of Rusev, I'm going to take Lana to the most luxurious island." Unfortunately, Renee informs him that he'll be defending his championship against Titus O'Neil, on Rusev Day, during Monday Night Raw.
Not quite cutting the mustard
Last week I noted that the characterization of WWE Champion Dean Ambrose (notably, the words "World Heavyweight" were deliberately not included tonight) was staying just on the right side of eccentric versus ridiculous. That was not the case here.
The bit about eating a sandwich—a Cuban, of course, in Miami—on Miz TV is initially clever. It's a fun little spin on how everyone shows disrespect to The Miz on "his show." Ambrose then proceeds to eat the sandwich very slowly over several minutes, getting mustard all over his chin. When The Miz takes his white suit jacket off, as fisticuffs seem imminent, Ambrose grabs the jacket and wipes his face.
Don't get me wrong, it's cute. But do the powers backstage consider this sort of character a long-term champion? I strongly doubt it. The sad thing is that an Ambrose with better writing could be a fascinating champion. This is not that.
Dean Ambrose isn't a lunatic, and he's basically never actually been presented as one (other than commentary yelling, "HE'S A LUNATIC!"). In fact, one gets the feeling that The Miz's comments tonight—that Ambrose was a joke, an oddity, a novelty act—aren't all that far off the backstage view. It's worrying.
The champion is baited by Maryse, who throws the jacket onto Ambrose, allowing The Miz to hit him with a big boot and vacate the ring. When Ambrose recovers, he again starts eating his sandwich.
Dean Ambrose is irreverent, not crazy. If that's how the show described him—that he's disdainful of the usual trappings of power and routine, because they don't help people like him and never have—they'd have the foundation for something special.
But consistently calling a dude who's merely a little bit goofy a "lunatic" makes a mockery of what the character could be.
The main event was a solid, if not spectacular, TV match. The Miz quickly decides on a strategy of targeting the left leg, which he does throughout (and Ambrose sells off-and-on, but notably does sell post-match). Neither of these two are great workers.
While The Miz does get a close near fall off a Skullcrushing Finale, he gets a little bit too greedy, taking to the top rope. The Dude is waiting for him, though, and one kick to the midsection and a Dirty Deeds later, Ambrose pins the Intercontinental Champion.
Building The Boss
Lord have mercy, Sasha Banks cut a promo. It was pretty good! (And for some bizarre reason isn't on WWE'S YouTube channel.)
"The Boss is more than just a nickname. It's legit. I've never been more focused. The WWE Universe knows it, and most importantly Charlotte knows it. She's the champ. But not for long. Those goosebumps she feels are from me breathing down her neck. She can throw any obstacle in my way, even her muscular friend Dana Brooke. I will hunt Charlotte down, and I will become the new Women's Champion."
At this, Summer Rae walks into the frame fiddling with her phone. Summer proceeds to break my heart by abandoning BFF continuity, saying, "We're all sick of this whole Boss thing—but it does fit you, all flash and no funk. Hopefully we'll be drafted to different brands." (For those unaware, Summer Rae is directly responsible for The Boss gimmick.)
Sasha replies, "I will be happy to show you what happens when you disrespect the Boss, tonight."
Please give us more of that. Please please please. It was the most natural Sasha has been in a talking segment on the main roster.
Battleground is only three weeks away, and Summerslam nary a month later. Her Brock Lesnar treatment seems to have worked, considering live crowds have been going bananas lately when her music hits. But they need to start drawing out her characterization a lot more. It's criminal that the defining face trait of both the character and performer—her driving motivation to get women's wrestling respected, and her absolute determination to ensure she's at the forefront of that movement—has not been touched upon, at all, since her call up.
The two work a solid seven minute match (basically a rehash of their match a few weeks back on Main Event), Rae tapping to the Bank Statement. Sasha has some words for Charlotte into the hard cam as we fade to commercial.
I sure hope Summer is used a lot better and a lot more after the brand split. She's wonderful with character work, is a good speaker, and serviceable in the ring.
All the rest
Dana Brooke defeats Billie Kay
A main roster debut for the Australian, though whether she'll stay up top after the draft remains to be seen. She hasn't been on NXT TV in many months. Brooke plays up her usual in-ring antics as Sasha Banks watches, clearly disdainful of Charlotte's protege, backstage. Arrogance on Brooke's part allows Kay an opportunity for some offense—which, admittedly, looks better than Brooke's—but the superstar formerly known as "The Total Diva" wins with the Samoan Driver.
Braun Strowman and Erick Rowan defeat Local Talent
This was a match that happened solely to set up the promo afterward. The New Day again appear from a mock Wyatt lair, and Kofi Kingston and Big E direct japes at Bray Wyatt. The leader of the family begins cackling, and says "I love how everything is a joke to y'all ... What's the matter with you, Woods? Why aren't you laughing? I suggest you tell your friends what you already know. The devil calls for you. And now all that's left for you to do is pray, and run." Xavier Woods is clearly perturbed by the whole thing.
And it's making this program work.
A solid, if not spectacular show. Boy, it's a lot easier to watch this sort of episode when it's two hours and not three.