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WWE SmackDown Live Recap & Reactions (Aug. 30, 2016): Awesome, Styles

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WWE SmackDown Live returned to Dallas last night (August 30, 2016) and continued its build for Backlash, now less than two weeks away. 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.

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A-Lister

The cold opening (which remains a wonderful feature) saw Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon first watching the now famous segment on last week's Talking Smack and discussing their issues with, respectively, The Miz and Brock Lesnar. Shane suggested that Bryan apologize, saying that he shouldn't provoke talent—and it's not an inaccurate point. But Bryan's apology was only made on Talking Smack later in the night, not to The Miz' face.

The show then opened with The A-Lister stomping his way to the ring, before his music ever hit. (Such a small thing, but such a wonderful, world-building note.) He proceeded to go in on Bryan, the fans, and all his other doubters.

CUT THE MUSIC. Now do I have your attention?! ... Don't you dare boo me, don't you dare boo me! After I've been pushed aside week after week after week by my general manager and commissioner, you're gonna sit there and boo me? (Boooo!) ...

The Miz proceeded to put over the "once prestigious" Intercontinental Championship that had been "tarnished by quitters and serial failures, and then hit out at the criticism he had a "soft style," saying "Maybe it's because I'm a great champion, am smarter and more talented, and find ways not to get hit."

He continued his worked-shoot by saying that, "You people don't get it. You don't see the big picture. All you see is what's on the surface. You don't see what goes on back there. Who do they call when they need a spokesperson? A commercial? A movie?" He even referenced playing a chicken in the recent row he had with Dolph Ziggler's Colonel Sanders!

I DO IT ALL, DAY IN AND DAY OUT, never getting injured. But you boo me because I'm unworthy because I didn't wrestle in VFW halls in front of 50 people. You cheer people who get opportunity after opportunity, but not me. I am not a failure, and what does that make you people? What does it make all of you when you call me unworthy? It makes all of you cowards. And you know why you're all cowards?

At that point, Ziggler's music hit. He then went in on the Intercontinental Champion:

Miz you're making a lot of great points man. But there's a reason why all these people will never get behind you. They see through everything that you do. We all go above and beyond, but you, you just want to be famous. That's why no one will ever believe in you. We see through the facade, you just want to walk a red carpet and hold up a title and be famous. And every single week you have the chance to change that perception. Yet you don't. You wanna talk about proving yourself? You wanna prove to Daniel Bryan? You wanna prove to your wife? You wanna prove to yourself that you're not a coward? Well then, let's do it right now. No title shots Miz, no referees, no ringbell, prove to the entire world that you can fight me, right here, right now, and prove it to yourself. You've got a chance to prove it. You and me, right now.

The Miz, unsurprisingly, backed away from the confrontation. Despite teasing getting back in the ring several times, he was ultimately dissuaded by Maryse. The couple walked to the back, as the crowd LOUDLY began a "COWARD! COWARD! COWARD!" chant. That was pure professional wrestling, folks.

It was beautiful, like something out of the 1980s. He's an excellent performer that even still manages to draw real heel heat and not get cheered, unlike many "cool heels" these days.

On Talking Smack, Bryan made a title match between The Miz and Ziggler for Backlash. But it'd be a mistake to take the belt off The A-Lister anytime soon. When he does put over someone for that Intercontinental Championship, it's going to be a great rub. I hope it's not for a fair while yet, as he's got a lot to offer in this role.

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The New Face That Runs the Place

AJ Styles is doing some wonderful, cocky prick heeling.

Styles continues to pop up in numerous segments throughout the show, and is well received every time and consistently delivers stand out performances. Here was no different, first running into Apollo Crews backstage. Styles forgot Crews' name, so the rookie spelled it out for him. The Phenomenal One told Crews that he was now The Face That Runs the Place, and then spelled out P-L-A-C-E, before telling Crews to "write it down, don't forget it."  AJ, who Greg Hamilton announced now wished to be introduced as "The Face That Runs the Place" (what a dick!), cut an in-ring promo putting himself over for beating Cena before being interrupted by Crews—who announced that he'd just spoken to Daniel Bryan backstage and gotten a match against Styles, to take place immediately.

This was far and away the best match Crews has had in WWE—including his time in NXT. He didn't sell for lengthy periods, working underneath a basic headlock despite the guy being built like a truck. Styles and Crews just went at each other for around ten minutes, and keeping the pace up helped mask Crews' weakness in psychology. This is how they should have been booking him from the start, and it's a bit bewildering it has taken this long.

There was an odd moment where Crews gave a strong right to AJ on the outside, and then told Mauro it was a "punch—P-U-N-C-H." Not a great sign that this spelling bee gimmick is just about the most character development Crews has gotten in a full year.

Styles won with a Phenomenal Forearm.

He's the best wrestler in the world. End of story. The WWE World Championship is going to look wonderful in his hands.

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Understanding Heath Slater and Rhyno

Renee Young went to learn more about Heath Slater by visiting in his trailer home. Sure, it was a bit stereotypical white trash bashing, but the fact that Slater genuinely seemed to be a man who appreciated his life kept it from becoming malicious.

Things we learned and saw in this segment:

  • Rhyno creepily peaking out the curtain as Slater and Young walked in the trailer.
  • Slater's wife presented the motley crew with crackers and Cheez Whiz.
  • Rhyno proceeded to draw a frowning face in Cheez Whiz on a cracker, then smile at this handiwork.
  • Slater's wife burped after eating a ton of crackers.
  • When asked by Renee why he joined up with Heath, Rhyno merely shrugged his shoulders. (On Talking Smack he would say that he saw "great promise" in Heath.)
  • The kids were out in the back picking up bottles and cans.

This was fun. Heath was good in this segment, but Rhyno was exceptional. Young gave great reaction face to all of this, too.

Oh, and Slater and Rhyno beat The Head Bangers to advance to the semifinals of the Smackdown Live Tag Team Championship tournament. There were many "Heath's Kids" signs in the arena, ala the Cesaro Section signs.

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Underwhelming Ambrose

WWE World Champion Dean Ambrose defeated by Baron Corbin (disqualification) after AJ Styles intervened and accidentally enziguried Corbin. Styles had been on commentary for the match. This match was announced earlier in the day Tuesday, and was never given a kayfabe reason—disappointing considering Smackdown Live had done an excellent job of late to make sure that everything had a storyline justification for happening.

Attention, folks: Dean Ambrose is not a main eventer. Not even close.

WWE places huge emphasis on big PPV matches, especially in the main event. Yes, this is largely because the writing is inconsistent and character development uneven. But this is the reality we live in—WWE main eventers need to be able to draw crowds into their matches.

Dean Ambrose:

  • Awful striker
  • Corniest moveset ever
  • No flippy shit to pop the crowd
  • Isn't technically sound
  • Doesn't sell well

Add it all together, and Dean Ambrose matches die a death way, way too often (as it did tonight) to consider him a legitimate main event talent. I'm sorry, it's just true.

For those defending the reaction for Ambrose this evening, remember this: This is the world champion, and hadn't appeared on the show at all until 9:40, and the most that can be said for the crowd (which was pretty hot most of the night) was that they were kinda into it at points. Listen to how they react to AJ Styles, and listen how they react to Dean Ambrose.

He's losing the title at Backlash, and frankly, it's on merit. Styles is wildly out of Ambrose's league. Watch Styles match with Ziggler last week, and Ambrose's match with Ziggler only two days prior at SummerSlam.

Worlds apart.

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All the rest

Alexa Bliss and Natalya beat Becky Lynch and Naomi (Bliss pinning Lynch). Nikki Bella was on commentary, and lo and behold, actually was good on commentary! (As she was on the pre-show, too.) If you still don't like Nikki Bella, please reevaluate your life choices. Also, Carmella jumped her from the crowd and threw her into the barricade—this is turning into something of a hot feud, amazingly.

Bliss used the distraction to roll up Becky. Alexa was not very good in this match, which was disappointing, but it's beyond frustrating that she's received virtually zero mic time or character building. Naomi's entrance is kinda getting over, which is good to see—anything fresh in WWE is going to get the benefit of the doubt, at least initially. Natalya remains the worst taunter on Earth.

Would like to see a couple of individual women's segments next week, rather than using the whole division in one spell. Though at least they're using the whole division ...

Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt cut promos against each other, setting up a match for Backlash. Given that Orton is likely to be Styles' first feud as champion, he's almost certainly going over. It seems like nobody has any clue what to do with Bray at this point. Also a weird bit when Randy rushed the ring at the end of the segment, the Wyatt noise hit and lights faded to black, and then we didn't go back to the ring to see Randy standing alone, with Bray having vanished. Seemed an odd production choice.

The Hype Bros defeated The Vaudevillains in a Tag Team Championship quarterfinals match. Fun little sprint, probably only four or five minutes, but was an active match throughout and it seems the crowd is responding to Mojo Rawley's enthusiasm.

Kane chokeslammed a guy nicknamed The Milkman. This was a weird segment—maybe it worked for some, but Kane is just so, so beyond purpose at this point. Come to think of it, anyone remember when Kane chokeslammed both the new WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn the night of the brand split draft? The Demon Kane (not The Demon King, mind you) then glared at Baron Corbin on his way to the back. Hard pass on that feud.

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A show of two halves. Were I just grading the first hour, this episode would have received an A+ for the second straight week. But it had a second hour. And the main event really fizzling out hurts the impression of the show, a lot.

Grade: B