WWE SmackDown Live's go-home show for SummerSlam aired from Austin, Texas last night (August 16, 2016). How would the blues build to their matches in the Barclays Center? For full results and the live blog, click here.
And for even more coverage of Smackdown Live, check out Tonya Rodgers and myself discussing tonight's episode on Live! After Smackdown Live.
That Damn Good
Of the four wrestlers in the two main championship feuds, it's Dolph Ziggler who's far and away providing the most compelling work.
Hard to imagine anything more "2016" than that.
On Miz TV, WWE World Champion Dean Ambrose again runs down his SummerSlam opponent for the WWE World Championship. After Ziggler referenced again using being passed over by the company as his fuel, Ambrose lays into the challenger:
That's really powerful stuff, tugging at my heartstrings. Let's play out this fantasy: big celebration, whoop dee doo. You think you wake up the next morning and your life changes? The critics are silenced? Nah. This (points to title) is when it starts getting really hard. All the critics, doubters, demons are still there. The day you win the WWE championship is the day the pressure really gets turned up, and Dolph, we know, you can't handle pressure. You're happy being a sarcastic star of your own crappy movie. Take a look at how big this chip on your shoulder has gotten. This chip, on your shoulder, is gonna weigh you down, and it's gonna bury you, and you've never felt pressure like you will at SummerSlam when you're in the ring with me ... you're gonna get embarrassed and hurt. You're gonna prove something to all these people, and me, and yourself—you don't want it bad enough. You've never wanted it bad enough. And you're never gonna get it.
Ziggler gets in the champion's face again, suggesting that he would refuse to quit on Sunday, and that Ambrose would have to keep coming at him, and coming at him, and coming at him. And that Ambrose would keep searching for that one move, that ONE last move, that one move to put Ziggler away—and then Dolph takes a slight step back and smacks the champion square in the mouth with a superkick. (The Miz and Maryse both have particularly great reaction faces.)
The Show-Off had suckered Ambrose, and the audience, into a false sense of security—oh, it's just Dolph showing his fire again, but he never backs it up ... wait did he just leave the champion on the mat, looking at the stars?
Ambrose has been doing good work as the cocky—and a little too arrogant, frankly—champ, but Ziggler has really raised his game since the brand split.
The problem remains that we still have a championship match between Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, neither of whom are particularly impressive telling a story in ring. But they've managed to surprise and impress to this point.
One of the best things about being a critic is seeing a performer prove you wrong.
Well, Dolph Ziggler, you've proved me wrong—so far.
For the Kids
Heath Slater is playing a role that basically anyone can play—but only a few can truly play well. He's knocking it out of the park.
Slater presents Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan with a fruit basket—interrupting Randy Orton's conversation with the management duo—to try to make amends for accidentally rejecting their contract offer last week. Bryan and Shane are both uninterested, until Orton—taking a big bite out of a Red Delicious (aka the worst of all apples) apple that Slater had thrown at him—suggests that he has an idea. We all know what's coming later.
With a Smackdown Live contract on the line, Slater is victimized by Orton. He's mercilessly pummeled by The Viper, inside the ring, outside the ring, and inside the ring again. But Orton gets a little too careless, and finds himself disqualified after refusing to let Slater out of the corner. Heath won! He did it for his kids! And he certainly paid for it.
As Slater recovered in the training room—telling the trainer that his body hurt everywhere—Bryan and Shane enter the room, with contract in hand—for which the crowd pops! Slater, however, thinks he's on Raw, calling Daniel "Mick" and saying that he's "way better than that other guy" (other guy meaning Bryan). He then tells Shane that he's "looking beautiful tonight"—thinking he's his sister, Stephanie. The management team slowly takes back the contact offer as the Red Dragon continues babbling, not realizing until late that his deal had been pulled out from under him, again.
It's a bit tasteless to make a concussion joke ever, but especially with Daniel Bryan in the segment, but I get that it puts over Orton as a destructive force five days before he faces Brock Lesnar in Brooklyn. But it's Heath Slater that's making these segments work.
Eva Marie was scheduled to face Naomi—whose new entrance, theme, and gear, is just way, way too much—but unfortunately was stuck in traffic:
I'm sorry to all my fans at #SDLive. Traffic in Austin is HORRIBLE!!!! Must be the weather... !?— Eva Marie (@natalieevamarie) August 17, 2016
all red (lights) everything.
When it was announced that Bexmella would face Alexa Bliss and Natalya in a tag match later, it seemed a guarantee that Eva would show up in the middle. She did, of course, with her entrance playing for the second time of the night—again!—but as she walked to the ring (what was she going to do, though?) was chased by Naomi. Natalya tossed Naomi out of the ring while she hunted down All Red Everything, but couldn't put Becky Lynch down with a roll up—the Lass Kicker quickly transitioning into her armbar finisher, making Nattie tap out and giving the win to herself and Carmella.
Smackdown Live is using all six of its women, and each character has gotten a little bit of coloring. It's not revolutionary stuff, but for the last several weeks has been far superior to Raw's Women's Division—which has sputtered out rapidly after unexpectedly putting the belt on Sasha Banks a month before SummerSlam. The Smackdown Live Women's Division has a six-woman tag on the SummerSlam card—a fair chance it's on the pre-show—and hopefully they get a decent amount of time. The multi-woman tag at Wrestlemania 32 was unexpectedly quite good, and this match has the talent to possibly provide something a lot better than that.
And who knows what shenanigans Eva will cause. But I'm looking forward to it, and that's the point of all this, right?
I rolled my eyes when I heard the announcement for a 12-man tag team match featuring the entire division, and truthfully it definitely felt like a time-killer. It's something that works a lot better for a live crowd than a television audience—it certainly doesn't help when we cut to commercial with every wrestler brawling in the ring, and then return to find everyone in the match dead on the outside barring two legal opponents in the ring. We missed everything!
Nonetheless, I can't fault it that much, because they gave American Alpha the pin yet again. They're being presented as the true cream of the crop—deservedly so—and it seems to be working. Let's hope they get some mic time in the near future. I'm still not a huge fan of giant matches like this, but at least they didn't make it worse than it needed to be. Acceptable.
All the rest
Dean Ambrose beats Erick Rowan after Dirty Deeds. I've seen this match before; you've seen this match before. There's not a whole lot to say about the ring work. but the segment itself took a turn for the better when Bray Wyatt turns his back on Rowan post-match. The Wyatt Family is such a stale stable, especially as heels, and when Bray grabbed the sheep mask, dropped it on his customary rocking chair, and walked off, it was hopefully a sign that The Eater of Worlds has new plans in his future.
Weird that a John Cena-AJ Styles program is in the miscellaneous section, especially considering that there's every chance of it being Match of the Night in Barclays. But boy, a Cena-Alberto Del Rio main event TV match is, well, not terribly exciting. Cena did get great elevation on a dropkick as Del Rio came off the top rope, which popped me, but nothing really stood out. AJ Styles on commentary provided a few decent lines, saying as Del Rio put the boots to his SummerSlam opponent, "I just want to see John Cena in more pain"; and when Cena is doing his Five Knuckle Shuffle routine, Styles mutters "I hate this" under his breath. The bitterness is so, so overt, and it's wonderful.
Cena escapes the cross armbreaker by lifting his opponent and slamming him down, and Del Rio takes too long when setting up his next move and walks into a flash AA. The Face That Runs the Place celebrates, but eats a Phenomenal Forearm for his troubles. AJ then tells Cena, "I am sick and tired of hearing the future goes through John Cena! This Sunday, when I beat you Cena, I WILL BE THE FACE THAT RUNS THIS PLACE. You say you love the WWE, that's great. Because I'm gonna make your passion, your prison. AS I ALREADY TOLD YOU ONCE, BOY. YOUR TIME IS UP. MY TIME, IS NOW. Styles drops the mic, and walks away—but gets greedy and hesitates before leaving the ring. He attempts to give Cena a Styles Clash, but Cena had enough time to recover, and Styles eats an AA as well. Cena ends the go-home show standing tall.
For the second week in a row, Baron Corbin brutalized Kalisto backstage, pressing his face up against the wall and telling him, "I do whatever I want, whenever I want, to whomever I want." This program doesn't appear to have anything at SummerSlam, which is fine—they're laying groundwork for the future. It takes all of 90 seconds, if that, a show, but still manages to advance a story. This is creative making the most of their time, and good on them.
Apollo Crews is so unimportant that he only gets to come out during commercial to confront The Miz. Shocking that it's been a year since his debut at TakeOver: Brooklyn last August. For a guy with such hype—and maybe a lot of it is the writing, but he's not really doing himself any favors, neither—he's shown very little substance.
Curt Hawkins is coming soon. I honestly don't know who he is, sorry. Apparently he's Benjamin Shelton's replacement as random lower-midcard warm body?
It's not technically part of Smackdown Live, but it enhances the experience so much that I should say a good word about Talking Smack. Daniel Bryan is a national treasure, and Renee Young is really hitting her stride in this moderator/host role. I highly encourage everyone to watch it every Tuesday.
This show wasn't exactly grabbing me while airing, but the more I thought about it, the more it all made sense, flowed, and worked. Even tiny, tiny things like the Wyatts coming out before Randy Orton had gone to the back, leading to a staredown, is a nice touch. Unlike Monday Night Raw, which has focused on Big! Moments! but not really thought about properly utilizing their resources—or following up on their Big! Moments!—Smackdown Live is showing all its work, carrying its numbers and crossing its Ts, and that deserves to be commended.
The first week of the brand split, Raw was vastly superior. The second, Raw was not quite as good, and Smackdown slightly better than before. As of the third week, Smackdown was putting forth a better product. And now?
It's the better brand.