WWE SmackDown Live invaded Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena last night (Sept. 27, 2016). 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.
If you thought that, in 2016, a feud between The Miz and Dolph Ziggler would be the hottest wrestling program in WWE, give yourself a pat on the back.
You'd be lying, though, since no one on earth could have predicted how fire this feud could be.
During The Miz's "hometown celebration" of his Intercontinental Championship reign, a video package played. And Oh Em Gee was it good:
Of course, The Miz was none too satisfied with his "celebration." Noting that 1.3 million Clevelanders had come out to celebrate the Cavaliers' NBA championship, he suggested that he deserved far more. Especially when you consider that the city had accepted noted traitor, LeBron James, back into their arms.
The Miz's parents were in the audience tonight—"the only two decent people in the arena"—but so were Dolph Ziggler's. His rival, and fellow Clevelander, came out to the ring to once again confront Miz after he had started going in on The Showoff's parents, suggesting that they had raised a "world class elite level failure." When Dolph said that The Miz had cheated to retain his title over and over, The A-Lister countered in a big way:
Do you think in the record books it's gonna say Miz cheated? No. But what's it gonna say about you? About your career? You were good, maybe even great. But now you just lose, and you lose, and you lose. When are you just gonna stop? When are you gonna end this mediocre career? ... You almost had that main event level. You're like the warm-up guy who gets everybody happy but then just loses. Your career makes me absolutely sick, and I would be embarrassed if it was mine. Let me explain something to you Ziggler. You should be embarrassed. Your parents should be embarrassed. Your friends should be embarrassed. Your city should be embarrassed. Of your career. You've done nothing of late. You just lose and you lose and you lose. I actually feel sorry for you. But you know what, Dolph? I'm done here.
I imagine you're gonna ask me for one more match, 'please Miz, please.' But everything is done for you. You have nothing. I have nothing to say to you, I'm gonna go celebrate in Hollywood. (To Ziggler's Parents) You must be so proud.
Dolph then stopped The Miz—even using his shoot name, Mike—before he lays it all out:
This is all I have (points to ring). This couple of minutes a night. This is my everything. I live for this. This is what I love. But sometimes things you love don't always love you back. And you can give and you can give, and you can give, and you can give, but sometimes you get nothing in return. And you have friends and family and fans that ask you,why you still do it? Why do you still subject yourself to this every night?
Because I can't stop. It's a sickness. Maybe my career didn't turn out the way I thought it would. I thought I would be a bigger star, but I just can't stop myself, but you, you, you put that title up one more time, LISTEN TO ME MIZ, you put that title up one more time, and I'll put up my entire career.
At this, The Miz's ears perked right up. The prospect of Dolph Ziggler being forced out of WWE wasn't necessarily appealing. But the prospect that The Miz could be the one to retire Ziggler—not to Raw, not to NXT, but gone entirely— seemed a heavenly suggestion. But for Ziggler, one way or the other, "I'll be out of my misery."
SmackDown Live has made 2016 Dolph Ziggler an extremely sympathetic character. That's an incredible piece of wrestling business.
At No Mercy, The Miz will defend his Intercontinental Championship, while Dolph Ziggler defends his career. This program has been so well-built, I don't have the slightest idea who's going to win. I don't know who I want to win! The Miz shouldn't lose his title, but Ziggler is putting in the best work of his career. It'd be a shame for it to end at this point.
Is Raw using anyone even 1/10th as well as SmackDown is using Miz and Ziggler?
The Greatest, Ever
AJ Styles retained his WWE World Championship against Dean Ambrose with an O'Connor Roll. But how they got to that result was masterful.
Obviously Styles wasn't dropping the belt tonight, but they also needed to keep Ambrose as a credible threat for the triple threat match at No Mercy. With John Cena on commentary, it seemed clear shenanigans were afoot. (And the former Face That Runs the Place did the best job in WWE history of getting Ambrose's character over, noting that his "unpredictability" was both Ambrose's biggest strength and weakness.)
Ambrose had escaped being placed in the Calf Crusher for a lengthy period of time by smashing Styles' face into the mat repeatedly—but was clearly affected by the submission. When he got back on the front foot toward the end of the match, he was sent over the top rope to the outside, landing hard and placing too much pressure on his knee. As it buckled, it gave Styles the opening to hit a big running knee from the apron—and The Phenomenal One then immediately attacked Cena on commentary before rolling into the ring. This got the 15-time world champion out of his seat and onto the apron, where referee Charles Robinson held him back.
But Ambrose had surprised Styles with an O'Connor Role. The several-second distraction from Cena ensured that by the time Robinson turned around, Styles was able to kick out at a late two—effectively meaning that Cena had cost Ambrose the championship. The "Lunatic Fringe" was not keen on this, and immediately rolled outside of the ring to also attack Cena. But when he rolled back in, Styles used his own O'Connor Role to record the win—with a notable assist from holding onto Ambrose's jeans.
Cena and Ambrose heatedly confronted each other after the match, and Dean ate an AA—as did Styles, who attempted to use the brouhaha to get in his own attack. Cena stood tall to end the show—and was cheered.
Ambrose's strikes were more on point tonight than usual, and he actually seemed more fired up—notably omitting certain parts of his moveset like the "hop off the turnbuckle, weak corner forearm, loose running bulldog" combination—suggesting that he was in fact treating Styles as "his enemy."
Quite annoyed that WWE hasn't uploaded John Cena's appearance on Talking Smack. Go watch it if you haven't, by the way. Right now.
Imagine not thinking he's one of the greatest of all time. And how on earth has this guy not been champion for over two years?
"The Division to Watch"
So said SmackDown Live Women's Champion Becky Lynch on Talking Smack. Throwing some rather unsubtle shade at her Monday counterparts, the champ suggested that Tuesday's women's division was "newer and fresher."
She's not wrong.
The women's division didn't get a huge amount of time tonight (about fifteen minutes, all told), but two legitimate, heated feuds were well advanced and characters continue to be fleshed out.
In a rematch of last week's abrupt encounter, Nikki Bella and Naomi faced Carmella and Natalya. The Princess of Staten Island didn't get herself disqualified this time, though she did score yet another win over "Little Miss Fearless." (In a pre-match vignette, Carmella had used that moniker and stated she wanted to make Nikki "disappear.") As Nikki attempted to hit Carmella with her finisher, Carmella raked the eyes—and I'll never not pop for an eye rake—before recording another shock pin.
Really could do without Naomi's butt-based offense—it doesn't even look like it hurts—but she played face-in-peril well, and Nikki's frustration at being unable to get into the match was well sold.
Absolutely digging Carmella's work of late. I had no idea she had it in her to play a psychotic heel—before the match continuously asking, "WHERE IS SHE? WHERE IS SHE?" and constantly sarcastically blowing Nikki kisses. (This is what apparently happens when you're separated from such a Huggable, positive influence in your life.)
Unfortunately for Becky, her night didn't go so well. She was set to have a match—and with rumors flying around that Candice LeRae may have been the opponent, women's wrestling dorks like myself were getting excited—before being savagely assaulted from behind by the number one contender, Alexa Bliss.
After smashing The Lasskicker's head into the ground several times, Bliss took the belt off the champion and held it in her face, yelling at her that "you don't deserve this, Becky! I do! I do!" At least one young Becky Lynch fan was utterly distraught at ringside.
There was something very visceral about Bliss stripping the title off Lynch in order to hold it in her face and demean her. It's one thing to just grab a title off the ground, but to actively remove it from the champion's body—that was just evil.
Bliss has rapidly turned herself into the best current female heel on the main roster.
Predator or Prey?
If there was one feud going into tonight I wasn't really buying, it was Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt. Nothing had been bad, it just wasn't grabbing me—Wyatt's several-year run as jobber to the stars has severely damaged his credibility. So when Orton opened the show, I sort of mentally checked out.
But if there's anything that can get me hooked, it's a show-long angle of a guy walking around backstage trying to find his nemesis. On paper that doesn't read that exciting. But each segment with Orton hunting in the bowels of the Quicken Loans Arena grew increasingly captivating—dancing with Erick Rowan twice, before finally locking him into the room in which he was prepared to ambush Orton, and then finally confronting and attacking Wyatt.
The Eater of Worlds quickly ran off, and Orton decided to put on the sheep's mask laying on the ground and sit in Wyatt's rocking chair. And then ... something happened. The camera went into slow-motion, words were reversed (at first I legitimately thought it was a production botch), Wyatt was heard slowly laughing while Orton sat in the chair—and then Wyatt was shown again in the chair for a second, before cutting back to Orton. Was Orton losing his mind? Was Bray in his head? What on earth?!
I don't know what any of that was about. But man if they didn't get me super interested to find out what happens next.
Wyatt has done good work in past feuds, though. A test of SmackDown Live's capabilities will be if they can present Orton and Wyatt's test of wits and wills in a way that makes both look more credible—especially Wyatt, who desperately needs a big feud win, but is almost certainly not getting it in this program.
All the rest
The Usos and The Ascension defeated Health Slater and Rhyno and American Alpha by submission. The Usos got new music, and I'm a big fan. Their presentation right now is delightfully on point—and don't turn your back on them if you got legs, because of you do so you're gonna get chop blocked. Their vicious joy in dismantling opponents' limbs is truly a wonder to watch right now.
And that Heath Slater hot tag! My God. The energy in the crowd was palpable, and Slater's aggressive assaults on The Usos were representative of a man who has been given a new lease on life. Exceptional babyface fire.
But he's got legs.
The Usos took another one tonight (after already working over Chad Gable's left knee, again), forcing the tag team champ to tap out to a Tequila Sunrise following a destructive tandem move targeting the back of Slater's left knee.
Even The Ascension looked good in this match!
Curt Hawkins is a weird dude, and has an announcement to make next week.
I can't even give this show a grade anymore. I legitimately don't want to give a fourth straight (!!!) A+, but, uh, this show was awesome and everything was really well done and everyone on the show got development and lots of angles were advanced and, and, and...
SmackDown Live and Talking Smack are 2.5 hours long combined. Monday Night Raw is shortly over three hours. Thirty minutes or so in run length isn't a huge difference in time. And yet the difference in quality, to these eyes, is night and day. No Mercy is shaping up to be the hottest pay-per-view of the year.
What else can I really give this show? Did you watch that Miz-Ziggler segment? Did you watch Cena on Talking Smack?