WWE SmackDown Live dealt with the aftermath from Backlash last night (Sept. 13, 2016) in Philadelphia. For full results and the live blog click here. For even more coverage of Smackdown Live, check out Tonya Rodgers and myself discussing the episode on Live! After Smackdown Live.
War of Words
What a segment this was.
AJ Styles, doing some of his best shitheading yet (literally the first line he said was "THE CHAMP IS HERE"), opened the show by incessantly bragging about how he "told you so" and that he was the new face that runs the place. He's playing such an enormous jerk so incredibly well.
He was interrupted shortly, not by the man he beat on Sunday, but by the former face that runs the place: John Cena. This was a bit of a surprise, given that the "former champ interrupts the new champ" trope is so frequently used. Cena told Styles that he wanted something from him, and when Styles went to give him the armband he's been wearing as a trophy, John Boy stated that he had one goal left in WWE: to tie Ric Flair with 16 world championships. And Styles would be a wonderful man to take the title away from.
Finally Dean Ambrose emerged, totally ignored Cena, and walked right into Styles' face. He claimed that AJ had made an enemy for life because of the low blow he used on Sunday and said he would take the title back "with interest."
And then Cena grabbed his arm from behind.
This was a "sit up and take notice" moment. Ambrose was taken aback and the crowd audibly gasped. But the hardest shots were yet to come. Cena first lambasted Ambrose for complaining about a low blow when he had crotched Styles the week prior, and then mockingly said that Ambrose "really brought the fight" in the match at Backlash. And then, well:
Stone Cold was right when he called you out on his podcast. I'm actually surprised that low blow even hurt you, because you ain't stepped up, you fell off. All you've been showing the WWE Universe is that you got no balls, brah.
The Philadelphia crowd, in response, wildly chanted "CENA! CENA! CENA!"
Ambrose wouldn't take it laying down, though, firing back at Cena that he had no time for his "sanctimonious bullcrap" and that "WWE uses you as a corporate puppet because you're really good on morning shows and cereal boxes." What's more, he called Cena a "lazy Hollywood part-timer," directly shooting at Cena's constant claims that he loves WWE and will never leave.
Shane McMahon emerged to announce that the main event at No Mercy would be a triple threat between AJ Styles, John Cena, and Dean Ambrose—and that Cena and Ambrose would tag in the main event against Styles and a partner of his choosing.
Everything in this segment was utterly engrossing. Shithead AJ, Veteran John, and Hostile Dean. Masterful.
AJ was unable to find a tag partner, first being rejected by Baron Corbin (who played true to character by having no interest in tagging, instead saying he wanted the title for himself) and then Kane. Thankfully, General Manager Daniel Bryan had a partner ready to go: JAMES ELLSWORTH!
That's right, the man with two hands made his Smackdown Live debut last night.
AJ refused a handshake, however, and stormed off. Luckily, someone else would take the Ellsworth problem off his hands.
The Real Main Event
Were it not for AJ Styles putting in God-tier performances, The Miz would be acknowledged right now as possibly the most in-form professional wrestler on the planet. He cut a promo celebrating his win at Backlash over Dolph Ziggler, leaning all the way into his usual smarminess. Ziggler interrupted and said something that would stick in The Miz' craw for the rest of the evening:
It's a funny thing Miz, you're out here holding the Intercontinental title, but you're trying to sell yourself as the actual champion. You're trying to prove it to yourself. Trying to sell yourself. But you know deep down inside, no matter what you do, any superstar that you walked past in the back and laughed at you, you know why. The WWE Universe is never gonna see you as a Top Guy. You're never gonna be a true main eventer, because the WWE Universe will always see through you Miz.
The A-Lister did not take kindly to this, responding:
Let me make this real clear for you. Anytime I'm on this show or any show, I am the main event... If I lived and died by the respect of the WWE Universe, you might as well bury me six feet under, just like your career.
Ziggler claimed The Miz would always have an asterisk by his name, and that he should fight him one more time. The Miz basically scoffed at this request—and admonished the crowd for booing Maryse—before Bryan came out to state that Ziggler would indeed get another match. The Miz did not take kindly to this:
NO NO NO NO NO. HE DIDN'T EARN THE RIGHT TO BE #1 CONTENDER IN THE FIRST PLACE. I TOLD YOU I WANT MY CONTRACT RENEGOTIATED... SO YOU AREN'T GETTING WHAT YOU WANT UNTIL I GET WHAT I WANT. THIS TITLE WILL NOT BE DEFENDED UNTIL I GET WHAT I WANT. I'M CALLING MY OWN SHOTS DANIEL, AND THERE'S NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT.
With that, the Intercontinental Champion and Maryse walked off through the crowd.
Prior to the main event starting, Styles was prepped to tag with Ellsworth—only for the legendary jobber to be ambushed from behind by The Miz, who held up the enhancement talent, stared directly into the camera, and shouted "YOU SEE THIS, DANIEL? I'M THE MAIN EVENT."
Styles was more than happy to see Miz offer himself as a partner (even literally thanking God), and the two heels were wonderfully, classically cheap and dirty throughout the match. Unfortunately for the pairing, the bout would end with Cena pinning the Intercontinental Champion following an AA.
Usually it's annoying to see a champion take a non-title loss, but a pinfall loss to John Cena in a tag team match is hardly the worst of all results.
After the match, Ambrose waited for the right opportunity to strike, catching Cena with a Dirty Deeds. He'd clearly not appreciated Cena's words earlier in the night. Interestingly, Philadelphia roundly booed Ambrose's actions.
This is the type of performance that best plays into Ambrose's strength: harboring a massive chip on the shoulder and barely-concealed hostility. Avoid the goofiness, and he's a quality piece on the show.
Five Feet of Fury
Becky Lynch needed a #1 contender for her Smackdown Live Women's Championship, so the other five wrestlers from the Six-Pack Challenge at Backlash squared off in a Frantic Five-Way. Becky cut a delightfully dorky promo before the match about her journey to the title, and how sweet the destination—holding the title aloft—was.
I actually tonight's contest might have been slightly better than the match Sunday, which I also quite enjoyed. This seemed to flow better tonight, though. Particularly enjoyed Nikki Bella simply ganking Carmella right from the start (there are now two singles women's feuds on Smackdown Live, and everyone else in the division has been heavily featured as well) and Naomi's vicious enziguri on Alexa Bliss as she was about to attempt a sunset flip powerbomb. Even Natalya brought some welcome power moves to the match—but then did her bizarre "YAYYYYY" taunt on the outside, and ruined all good will she had with me. Nikki was set to win the match, having grabbed Bliss for her new Fireman's Carry Cutter finisher—but then Carmella once again stuck her nose in Nikki's business, superkicking the longest reigning Divas Champion in history. Unfortunately for Carmella, Bliss had fallen lightly, tossed The Princess of Staten Island out of the ring, and claimed the pinfall—and the #1 contendership—for herself.
On Talking Smack, Bliss proved what we all knew: she's the best talker in the division, and desperately needs more mic time. This title feud with Becky could prove to be a godsend for her—her coming out party was her NXT title feud with Bayley in October/November 2015, and this could prove a similar boon for her main roster run. Coldly telling Daniel Bryan that "I'm nothing like you" and telling Renee Young that her shirt was a cute "Tina Turner hand-me down" was downright savage. (And Young's reaction face was particularly on point, as well. Seriously, if you're still not watching Talking Smack, what are you waiting for?)
Will be several shades of ironic (and depressing) when Becky Lynch-Alexa Bliss has more heat as a title feud than Sasha Banks-Charlotte. They actually write worthwhile stories on Tuesday nights and provide meaningful characterization for their female performers, though, so it won't be particularly surprising.
(What I wouldn't give for Bayley on the blue brand.)
Heath Slater signed his contract! He is now officially a Smackdown Live talent—and, obviously, one-half of the Smackdown Live Tag Team Champions.
Weirdly, this segment gave off the impression that Rhyno was annoyed at Slater. But this didn't make any sense, given that Slater continuously thanked him. We'll see where that goes in the weeks to come.
The celebration was interrupted by The Ascension. Though Heath wasn't interested in a fight, Shane McMahon went ahead and made the title match. The longest-reigning NXT tag team champions were dispatched fairly routinely (after a particularly egregious double-team botch on their end), Slater and Rhyno having successfully put away their first challengers.
All the rest
The Usos defeated The Hypo Bros by pinfall. I can't say enough about how much a revelation the Heel Usos are. They're nailing this alignment switch in the biggest possible way. The new gear, the vicious working of body parts, the underhandedness and cheating with a complete air of "I don't give a ****"—I'm all in on Jimmy and Jey right now. Shout out to both Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley as well, Ryder playing the face-in-peril really well and Rawley's hot tag quickly turning into one of the better ones in the company.
Randy Orton addressed Bray Wyatt's attack on him from Backlash, and told Wyatt that The Viper indeed knows why Wyatt calls himself the face of fear: because he's afraid. Wyatt countered from his backstage alcove that Orton had embarrassed him at Backlash, and that he knew what he must do. He appeared at ringside, and as Orton summoned him into the ring, Erick Rowan attacked from behind. His assault was not long-lasting, though, as he soon ate an RKO. Bray, as usual, had disappeared.
Baron Corbin assaulted Apollo Crews from behind before a scheduled rematch from the Backlash pre-show, culminating in an End of Days on the outside. But while he soaked in his "birthday present to himself at the expense of Apollo Crews" (as he called it on Talking Smack), Jack Swagger made his blue brand debut. Corbin gave a massive eye roll upon hearing Swagger's music, and ducked out of the ring when the Real American approached. Afterward, Swagger told the world that Smackdown Live is the land of opportunity and that he would make a name for himself.
Curt Hawkins is a weird dude.
This is the best wrestling show on television. Come at me, bros.