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WWE SmackDown Live Recap & Reactions (Aug. 23, 2016): Phenomenal

WWE SmackDown Live's SummerSlam fallout show aired from Uncasville, Connecticut, last night (August 23, 2016), and a jam-packed night was promised for the blue brand. 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.


The Face That Runs the Place

In the cold open, AJ Styles emerged into the Smackdown Live locker room, bragging that he had beat up John Cena at SummerSlam while brandishing the prior Face That Ran the Place's armband on his head. He continued to talk smack to all assembled, and approached a crestfallen Dolph Ziggler, who was still upset over his WWE World Championship loss at SummerSlam to Dean Ambrose.

Ziggler didn't take kindly to this, and popped Styles in the mouth.

Styles was furious. He soon after emerged during the unveiling of the Smackdown Women's and Tag Team Championships, telling Heath Slater that he wouldn't be his partner before Ziggler again attacked from behind, before being separated by the assembled talent in the ring.

The Phenomenal One continued his bragging during an in ring promo later in the match. Ziggler attempted to interrupt—which clearly Styles was provoking—before General Manager Daniel Bryan announced the two would face off that night. If Styles won, he would face Dean Ambrose at Backlash for the title. If Ziggler won, he would be added to the contest and the match at Backlash would be made a triple threat.

A show long-narrative, established throughout four segments, culminating in an excellent TV main event match (and probably the best-ever Ziggler match I've ever seen).

While WWE World Champion Dean Ambrose watched on commentary, Styles proceeded to show just why he's considered the best wrestler in the world, producing a 20 minute TV match that didn't for one moment feel dragged down by its length. Ziggler did his part here too—this match was substantially better than the Smackdown championship match in Barclays, and while a huge, huge part of that is due to Styles, Ziggler upped his game tonight as well.

Styles eventually won with the Styles Clash, and the main event for Backlash was set—Dean Ambrose vs. AJ Styles for the WWE World Championship.

That championship is going to be rather phenomenal only a few short weeks from now.



They steered into the skid.

Ever since her call up from NXT, Carmella had foundered, drawing little reaction as a face. Meanwhile, Nikki Bella returned at SummerSlam after a career-threatening neck injury to a huge ovation, and even recorded the pinfall win over The Princess of Staten Island.

Before their scheduled match, Renee Young attempted to get a word from Nikki about her comeback to the ring. But Carmella snapped, turning heel by brutally assaulting The Queen of Strong Style from behind. She even hit the Fearless Wonder with a BellaBuster—or, should I say, a MellaBuster (as coined by Cageside's own J. Elam).

This worked perfectly.

Later, on Talking Smack, Carmella again assaulted Nikki, prompting Renee to ask at one point "Are you OK, Nicole?" They've gotten Carmella over as a vicious heel in one night, and made Nikki the face that the crowd has long wanted her to be—and she's especially sympathetic now, having been mugged from behind by an upstart after just returning from possible retirement.

Telling stories in the women's division without resorting to death-defying stunts to get pops. All Hail, Based Ryan Ward. If only Raw's creative team was allowed to work unimpeded by their superiors.



If you aren't watching Talking Smack ... watch it. Now, and forever.

The Miz cut one of the best promos all year on Smackdown Live's aftershow. After Daniel Bryan called him a coward and that he said he represented the soft style of WWE, The Miz ... well, just watch it.



The Hottest Free Agent...

... now that a certain Hugger was signed to Raw on Monday.

Heath Slater interrupted the opening segment—the unveiling of the Smackdown Live Women's Championship and tag team titles—and was told by Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon that he wasn't equipped to challenge for the women's title ("Daniel, I am not a woman"—despite the fact he had rather pointedly stared at the new, gorgeously blue championship) nor the tag titles (Shane telling him he didn't have a partner).

Heath promised to find a partner and that he would win the tournament, and management agreed that if he were to do so, he would receive a Smackdown Live contract. The rest of the show saw Slater searching high and low for a partner, seemingly finding one in The Miz before realizing that the A-Lister was actually on the phone with Steven Spielberg to possibly be the new Indiana Jones. He then approached Arn Anderson (!), and the veteran Horseman and tag team specialist was seemingly being talked into the idea—before Slater revealed that Double A was his last hope, rather than his first choice. Anderson replied, "Huge mistake, huge mistake," before walking off.


But then Rhyno walked in, and said that he bet a tag team champion could make payments on an aboveground pool. What a wonderful bit of continuity that was! Our newest odd couple tag team was born.

Heath Slater is putting in work, folks.


All the rest

Becky Lynch submitted Alexa Bliss with the Disarmer (Naomi and Natalya on commentary). One of the sharpest matches Becky has had in months and months. Her offense was significantly tighter and more impactful, and her obvious goal of finding any way possible to lock Bliss into the Disarmer was a really nice character beat. She knew it would be a guaranteed win, so she tried various methods of applying the hold until finally it worked. For her part, Bliss recovered very well from a slight slip on the ropes into a sunset flip powerbomb—that recovery is a very good sign for someone who is still a relatively green worker. And her kick to the back of Becky's head while she was hanging prone on the middle rope was a particularly vicious bit of nastiness. Good stuff.

The women will face off at Backlash in a six-pack challenge to become the first-ever WWE Smackdown Live Women's Champion.

Randy Orton spoke about his vicious beating at the hands of Brock Lesnar on Sunday night, but was interrupted by Bray Wyatt. The Eater of Worlds gave his typical spiel:

You are just a man Randy. A great man, but still just a man. A man who hurts. A man who suffers. A man who dies. (Laughs) But me Randy, I am not just a man. I am a God. And a God, Randy, can never die. But don't you worry. You're going to find out all about it. In time.

Orton summoned Wyatt into the ring, but instead he vanished from ringside. It was usual Bray-stuff, but I did truly like that he kept his hood on the whole time and the scene was shot so that his entire face was covered in darkness—actually providing some sort of mysticism to Bray's gimmick.

(The camera angles were on point all night, in fact, and the new set is a really welcome change. And those new titles! My word, those are exquisite.)

Shane McMahon told Charly Caruso that, "This thing with me and Brock Lesnar is far from over." Oh joy.

American Alpha defeated Breezango in a really good TV match, as part of the Smackdown Live Tag Title Tournament. Alpha are wonderful, but don't sleep on Breezango. For my money they're arguably the second most talented team in the division.

The Usos beat The Ascension in a less good TV match, also part of the tag title tournament. Not much to add to this, though The Usos also were quite good on Talking Smack. That format is such, such a winner.


The good thing about Smackdown Live is that it has a distinct identity—you absolutely know what you're going to get.

Unfortunately, what you're going to get is the very worst of soul-crushing WWE programming. I'll be surprised if this show cracks two million viewers two weeks from now.

So wrote I, just under a month ago. The very first episode of Smackdown Live was hallmarked by all the worst ideas of Vince McMahon programming.

Safe to say one month into the brand split that is no longer the case. Vince is once again focusing solely on Raw, to the complete and total detriment of that brand. Despite having a vastly superior roster on paper, it's an absolute mess with little internal consistency, almost zero meaningful characterization, and absent any sustained storytelling.

But Smackdown Live is free from The Evil Scion's clutches. This review is shorter than usual because frankly, the show was simply phenomenal. If you didn't watch it, pull it up on your DVR and do so, now. If you did, go and watch it again. And tack Talking Smack onto that as well. Last night was pure, beautiful, glorious, unadulterated, pro wrestling.

Combined with its aftershow, the blue brand followed a string of successively improved episodes with the best 2.5 hours of pro wrestling in 2016.

Grade: A+

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