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WWE SmackDown Live Recap & Reactions (Sept. 6, 2016): Snakes in the Grass

WWE SmackDown Live ran its go-home show for Backlash last night (Sept. 6, 2016) in Lincoln, Nebraska. 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.


No Joke

AJ Styles is out to show to Dean Ambrose this isn't a joke.

Throughout the show we saw the two's alternate approaches: Styles was aggressively serious, motivated, and focused, first threatening to get an innocent man fired when being interviewed by Renee Young on set about last week's events. He then followed that by smashing a worker's phone against the wall while walking backstage and then saying "Your phone's broken, why don't you go pick it up?"

Styles had beaten John Cena, clean, and in his mind was not getting the due respect he deserved.

Ambrose, for his part, first appears on the show to pour an enormous amount of sugar into a random man's coffee cup (a crime that even David Otunga has the sense to criticize), and then is later shown getting his hair done. He checks the aroma of the hairspray, apparently finds it reasonable enough, and allows the stylist to continue.

Championship material, that.

So it makes sense that when Styles confronted Ambrose at the end of the show, The Phenomenal One was not at all interested in Dean's goofiness. He is laser-focused on winning the title, whereas Dean seemingly just wants to show he's overly laid-back, unserious, and above it all. The champion's characterization of late is so deliberately unmotivated, in fact, that it almost makes it seem like WWE has steered into Stone Cold Steve Austin's shoot criticism of Ambrose, that he was coasting, resting on his laurels.

The champion had brought a black bag with him, and gave it to Styles. In it was a bowling participation trophy ("it isn't even mine,"), that Ambrose called "the only trophy you'll ever get from me." Goofy Dean with his props. AJ retorted:

I bet you think this is a joke too, don't you. (points at the Cena arm band he now wears) I got this from the last person I beat. This is my trophy, you see. Unlike this piece of crap (drops the bowling trophy). I don't want you to hand me anything. In fact, that trophy over your shoulder will be the one I'm taking from you this Sunday—just like I took this from John Cena. I am gonna beat you at Backlash, so go ahead, Dean, make a joke out of me. Go ahead. Look through me, over me, past me. AJ Styles is a joke. But John Cena took me very, very seriously. And I beat him clean, right here in the middle of a WWE ring. And come on Dean, let's be honest. You're not John Cena.

Ambrose does get in a very good line that "we don't give out trophies out here for the face that comes in second place"—but then promptly is low blowed by Styles. A bit of revenge from last week, perhaps, and certainly a pointed statement that Styles is no joke. The challenger berates the fallen champion and stands tall to end the show—he is The Face That Runs the Place, and demands to be seen as such.

And when he wins the WWE World Championship on Sunday, he's going to be proven right.


Predator or Prey?

Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton cut dueling promos on each other, The Eater of Worlds offering up his typical mumbo jumbo rhetoric and largely not making a whole lot of sense. (He claimed that he was "the evolution of man" and then literally followed that by saying he was a God. Uh, I'm no theologist, but that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. Are you man or God, Bray?)

The Viper's was much better. He detailed a story of a man hunting for food, and finding and shooting a rabbit. But when he went to grab his prize, he noticed a snake in the area, who also was interested in the man's potential meal.

The man took a step and another, and the snake didn't move. The man kept moving, but the snake didn't move. So the man, satisfied, squatted down over the rabbit. He took one last look at the snake, and then grabbed the rabbit and tried to run. But that was when the snake struck. You see, the snake never stopped wanting the rabbit. But when he saw the man, he knew he could have them both... He waited for the man's overconfidence to become his undoing... I'll be waiting patiently for Bray Wyatt at BackLash, and at Backlash, Bray Wyatt won't know what hit him.

Quality from Orton. I expect him to go over in order to build him up to be AJ Styles' first challenger.


Tournament Magic

Smackdown Live has booked its tag title tournament just about perfectly. The first semi-final, The Usos vs. American Alpha, provided many of us with a turn we'd long been hoping to see—as The Usos first jumped Alpha before the bell, and then, after losing in only thirty seconds (!!!), pretended to give a show of respect before once again attacking the upstarts. They revealed, at long last, their true colors.

This was exceptional. The Usos got their necessary refresh, as their face run had long burnt out, Alpha looked exceptional by rapidly squashing the two-time WWE tag team champions, and then the injury angle—Chad Gable's leg was damaged by The Usos during the post-match beatdown, in a way very reminiscent of a certain Top Guys duo based in Florida—saved the future Ace team from either having to take a distraction loss on Sunday or having to go over the other finalist, WWE's new fan favorite team ...

When you tell entertaining stories, and performers provide strong character work, you can make even the most unlikely of acts a hit. And there's no doubt about it: the odd-couple pairing of Heath Slater and Rhyno are one of the best acts in all of WWE right now. Their victory over The Hype Bros places Heath only one win away from receiving his coveted Smackdown Live contract—and he got to celebrate the win with his wife and seven kids, who were seated in the front row behind the announcer's table.

Due to Alpha's inability to compete, The Usos and The Hype Bros (who Daniel Bryan keeps calling "The Hype Brothers" on Talking Smack) will face off Sunday, and the winner of that match will face Slater and Rhyno for the titles. Do they pay off Slater's arc and give him the gold, or will The Usos garner even more nuclear heat by denying the new fan favorites the prize?

The story works either way. Imagine that, booking yourself into a scenario where every possible result makes sense and advances the narrative.


There Can Be Only One

General Manager Daniel Bryan opened the show hosting a "Smackdown Women's Championship Forum," during which he noted the match would be elimination-style. The forum then predictably descended quickly into chaos. Becky Lynch came out first, as the brand's first female draft pick, and as she ventured that "Maybe there was a reason my journey was so long, maybe there was a reason I got turned on so many times..." She was quickly interrupted by Natalya, who continued her gimmick as the weirdest person on the roster by telling the crowd—who had barely reacted to her music—to "settle their tea kettles" and called Becky boring.

(Pot, kettle, am I right? Eh? Eh?)

The other two heels followed, first Alexa Bliss and then Carmella, but oddly neither's music played. It seemed like Alexa's mic malfunctioned (Becky shoot telling her "We can't hear you"), and Carmella continued the same entrance shtick she had always done as a face, which was a bit strange.

Becky quickly caused dissension in the heel camp (Carmella calling Alexa "Polly Pocket," to which Ms. Bliss responded with one of her trademark, gloriously mean looks) before the trio of bad girls realized what the Lasskicker was up to. Luckily, Naomi and Nikki Bella arrived to even the odds, and a six-woman tag was set for later.

The match was ... not that good. There are two very strong workers out of the six, two very green wrestlers, one hit-or-miss, and one meandering, overrated worker. (No bonus points if you can guess them all, since it should be easy enough.) It was hard to maintain a consistent flow to the match, and it wasn't helped by sloppy execution—Alexa notably whiffing on the back half of "Insult to Injury." At the end of the match, everyone was tossed out of the ring save for the two legal women, Carmella and Nikki Bella. Perhaps surprisingly, The Princess of Staten Island made the Fearless Queen tap out to her Code of Silence submission—which of course targeted Nikki's surgically repaired neck.

Not a great night for Smackdown Live's women, but they still managed to build intrigue for Sunday with the announcement that the six-pack challenge is an elimination match. It still seems like it has to be either Nikki or Becky, but there could be some interesting paths to get to either of those victors. Let's hope the match is cleaner than tonight's, though.


All the rest

The Miz continued his recent excellent work, cleverly using an attempted distraction from Dolph Ziggler to his advantage to defeat Apollo Crews. Ziggler on commentary hinted at a heel turn in case he were unable to take the Intercontinental Championship from the A-Lister at Backlash.

After the match, Ziggler stood tall in the center of the ring, standing over the title, demanding that the champion come get his belt. Instead, The Miz sent Maryse into the ring to retrieve the title, knowing Ziggler wouldn't physically stop her. Dolph called the champion a coward, but The Miz merely smiled and laughed—he was well ahead of any games Ziggler was trying to play.

For me, there are few things better in wrestling than a clever, heel Intercontinental Champion.

Earlier in the show, The Miz had confronted Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon backstage, and complained that ZIggler was receiving a title opportunity without deserving one. Bryan said that he could forfeit the title if he didn't want to fight on Sunday, and The Miz angrily stared at the general manager for several seconds after his music had started playing. This is the sort of minor thing that helps tie the show together into a whole, rather than isolated, segregated segments.

Fandango brought a young woman into the ring to see if she could replace Tyler Breeze—who was in Dubai scouting out rare fabrics for their next fashion show—for the night as a dancing partner. She was OK, but Fandango was having none of it, telling her "Your hips are full of lies." She responded "My hips are the truth!" and walked off.

All right.

Fandango kept asking whether anyone would come dance with him, and out came the Big Red Machine, the Demon Kane. Though he was told by Fandango that he liked the "big old fiery red dancing machine" and that he wanted to "feel that fire in your belly" ... well, you can guess what happened. Kane chokeslammed one-half of Breezango and received a "Go Big Red" chant. The Lincoln crowd simply had to reference their beloved Cornhuskers.

Curt Hawkins makes his much ballyhooed debut next week.


Let me preface the grade with this: tonight's show was hit-or-miss. But it tried to advance coherent stories or angles. There were no swerves OUTTA NOWHERE for the purposes of Controversy! Drama! Chatter! The show stumbled at points—the women's segment was a notable disappointment—but that can be somewhat excused. Sometimes, things just don't play out well on camera. It's the nature of doing a weekly live show like this. But it's at least attempting to present a consistent show universe, and build on it each successive episode, unlike it's counterpart on Monday nights.

If I were grading Smackdown Live on Raw's curve, for that truth alone the blue brand would get an "A" every week. This was definitely not close to the best we've seen on Tuesday nights since the brand split, but still a solid enough go-home show.

Grade: B

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