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WWE SmackDown Live Recap & Reactions (April 11, 2017): More of the same

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for SmackDown Live.

AJ Styles and Sami Zayn wwe.com

WWE’s “Superstar Shake-Up” continued last night (April 11, 2017) during SmackDown Live in Boston. For full results and the live blog from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.


The Land of Opportunity ... ?

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Simply saying something does not make it so.

It was a very deliberate—and brilliant—ploy by WWE to market SmackDown Live as an “alternative” to Monday Night Raw. Presenting itself as “The Land of Opportunity,” and actually following through on that slogan, made the blue brand stand out as a fresh product—one where ostensible top faces aren’t mocked with “YOU DESERVE IT” chants after they’re murdered on camera. Instead, the branding of SmackDown Live can only be described as a masterfully executed work.

SmackDown’s kayfabe management is more committed to the cause than anyone else. It would make sense that Commissioner Shane McMahon and General Manager Daniel Bryan would seek out talents on Raw who were viewed as not receiving fair treatment (whatever that may mean) to rehabilitate.

Superstars like Sami Zayn and Rusev were natural fits for the brand, as they’ve long been viewed as “underrated” in the eyes of the WWE Universe. Those are performers and characters who can really do with a spell on the blue brand.

So winding up with the former Universal Champion and current United States Champion, a four-time Women’s Champion and by far the most featured female Superstar in the company over the last two years, and the longest reigning Tag Team Champions in WWE history is a bit interesting.

Now, is there a possibility for all three to reach new heights on Tuesdays? Certainly. Kevin Owens already managed to remind people of his greatness with one Talking Smack appearance when he fully shed off the cool, jokey heel persona that permeated his time as Chris Jericho’s best bud, instead opting to be the unrepentant dick that best suits him.

But on the face of it, adding those three Superstars is a bit perplexing and goes against the well-ingrained philosophy of the show. They’ve had opportunities—lots of them. There was a chance for Bryan and Shane to explain on Talking Smack how those three acts fit with their idea of the show, but they didn’t take it, instead opting for the “good talents” reasoning. As Geno noted in his Raw review, it’s an issue that little process or justification was given to the switches. SmackDown’s usually good at filling in those gaps, but they mostly neglected to do so last night.

It reflected a lack of care and indifference to the continuity of the product.


The House That AJ Styles Built ... or KO Country?

United States Champion and new Face of America Kevin Owens opened the show to a rousing ovation, announcing that SmackDown Live was now The Kevin Owens Show. He went for the easy route of proclaiming Canada as superior to the United States, said that the Montreal Canadians always beat the hometown Boston Bruins, and said—in French, of course—that if anyone had a problem with what he was saying, they should come down to the ring.

Most importantly, Owens noted that he wasn’t there for the fans, nor for any one in the locker room, but that he was on SmackDown Live for himself only. (Well, and his family too!) He later called it “KO Country” on Talking Smack.

Welcome back, KO. We’ve missed you.

Enter Baron Corbin, who correctly noted that since he beat Dean Ambrose last week and Ambrose beat Owens last night, that the United States Champion wasn’t a threat to him. He said that Ambrose tucked his tail to Raw after he lost last week, and that Owens did the same to Tuesdays when he lost to Ambrose this past Monday. That’s lowkey a great character note, presenting Corbin as ostensibly logical and not merely a dumb oaf, and gave some justification—a heel justification, but some—for some of the Shake-Up.

Owens bantered back, telling Corbin he did not deserve an opportunity at the US title, only to be interrupted by a familiar song. As Sami Zayn made his entrance, Owens incessantly said, “No, no, no, no, you cannot be here, this cannot be real.” Zayn announced he was “finally” on SmackDown Live, but Corbin quickly shot that down by saying “nobody cares.”

Finally, AJ Styles music hit, and after a thunderous “AJ STYLES! AJ STYLES!” chant, he laid down the law:

You see, this is not The Kevin Owens Show. This is SmackDown Live! And it’s not about The Underdog from The Underground, no offense Sami Zayn, it’s definitely not about The Lone Wolf, this is about ME. This is about SmackDown Live, The House that AJ Styles built, and I am still here.

He ain’t wrong.

Daniel Bryan emerged to note that the winner of the United States Championship match at Payback between Owens and Chris Jericho would be on SmackDown Live, but that the other three men in the ring would face off in a triple threat to determine the new number one contender for said title.

It comes as no surprise that a triple threat match with Styles, Zayn, and Corbin was great. A strike sequence toward the end of the match involving all three was particularly awesome. Eventually, Zayn Helluva Kicked Corbin off the ring apron, only to turn right around into a Phenomenal Forearm. Three seconds later, and AJ Styles became the new number one contender for Owens’ United States Championship.

Feel pretty confident in noting that coming feud is an exciting prospect. It’s a particularly clever piece of business in that it largely nullifies any chance of Owens getting heavily cheered in his first program, given how beloved The Face That Runs The Place is by Tuesday night crowds.

Also worth stating that Zayn eating the pin in his first night is only the beginning of what should be an extended journey for him. This is exactly how his tenure on SmackDown should have began.

For a list of all the Superstars joining SmackDown Live, check out Cageside’s full coverage of the Shake-Up.


Rock star

... is not what anyone will be calling Dolph Ziggler anytime soon.

To be fair to Ziggler, he cut a pretty strong promo about how the fans were excited for “shiny new toys” and quickly would lose interest, but that he would never go away. He’s been a bit hit or miss for a while now, but hasn’t exactly been helped by his recent opponents. His characterization is actually very consistent—it’s just not always that, well, exciting.

As Ziggler went on he was interrupted by “Rising Star,” and Shinsuke Nakamura made his way to the ring. In only two weeks, Nakamura has gotten so over with much of the crowd that he’s getting treatment usually only reserved for AJ Styles—having his name chanted for minutes and minutes on end. It’s safe to say that SmackDown Live has very much nailed his roll out, and any fears that he was wasting away because of an extended run in NXT are way off base.

Dolph, agitated as always, said that he didn’t know who Nakamura was and “Who exactly do you think you are?” Shinsuke simply said, “Do you want to know who I am? I am Shinsuke Nakamura,” which elicited another round of “NAKAMURA! NAKAMURA!” chants.

Annoyed, Dolph made to leave, but instead attempted a superkick. Nakamura, well aware of what Dolph would try, easily caught the kick and threw Ziggler to the mat. He then did his “COME ON” taunt, Ziggler acted as if he would confront The King of Strong Style, and then wisely thought the better of it and rolled out the ring.

Ziggler appears to be filling the role that Miz formerly played, of introducing new characters and being a consistent foil to allow the new performer to present themselves in a rounded fashion. It’s a good spot for him, and this should be a pretty good program between he and SmackDown Live’s resident rock star.


Some say Shane McMahon invented the SmackDown Women’s Division

Shane McMahon addressed the state of the SmackDown Women’s Division last night, first calling out the current roster to the ring and then announcing the two new names, Tamina and Charlotte Flair. There was a bit of cuteness when he initially teased Charlotte coming out, but instead bringing out Tamina first. Earlier in the segment James Ellsworth at one point grabbed the mic to put his friend that is a girl, Carmella, over, before SmackDown Women’s Champion Naomi took the mic and warned Carmella to “get your side chick before she get chin checked.”

But overall this segment was incredibly lazy and lacking. Moreover, the use of the singular “segment,” for the second week in a row, is a bit inauspicious for a show that ran three women’s matches on a pay-per-view card two months ago. Perhaps next week we’ll see new feuds being launched.

It was especially egregious when Shane noted that Charlotte was possibly “the best acquisition” in the entire Shake-Up, and then she got literally no time to troll a Boston audience that badly wanted a different former Raw Women’s Champion. On Monday night, Alexa Bliss was presented as a star of her own accord. We weren’t simply told of her greatness, she proved it on the mic. It’s rather strange the blue brand didn’t opt for a similar tact last night. If you’re going to claim someone is a star, let them prove they actually are one.

It would have fit perfectly in character, and been a really good bit, to have Charlotte steal the mic from Shane and proclaim her preeminence over all and sundry, and then have Naomi fire back as the beloved leader of the division. There’s only one chance to make a first impression, so this was a missed opportunity.


Back from the dead?

The Usos retained their Tag Team Championships last night, defeating American Alpha in a really strong match that featured an exceptional finishing sequence. These two teams really click in the ring.

If only SmackDown could get American Alpha’s characters over, this division could once again be a lot of fun. Perhaps The New Day—who weren’t present on the show, with Kofi Kingston laid up with an ankle and Xavier Woods selling death from an avalanche (of sorts) Shatter Machine—can bring out the goofy personas that made Chad Gable and Jason Jordan such big hits in NXT.

Afterward, The Shining Stars made their presence felt by laying out Alpha.


All the rest

WWE Champion Randy Orton—you forgot the belt was on the show for a minute, didn’t you?—beat Erick Rowan via disqualification after a short match. While Orton was well on top, Bray Wyatt appeared on the Tron to continue their feud of horrors. He said some Bray stuff, Orton was basically nonplussed, then rolled outside the ring only for Rowan to throw the steps into him. He then laid out the champion with a Full Nelson Slam and stood tall.

Mojo Rawley defeated the debuting Jinder Mahal—who might be lucky to have a job after giving Finn Balor a concussion last night on Raw with an obscenely stiff forearm—thanks to an assist from his buddy, Rob Gronkowski. Jinder did put in a pretty strong appearance on Talking Smack later in the night.

The Perfect 10 Tye Dillinger beat Aiden English in a short match. Before the bout English seemed to be reprising his old NXT role as a live singer, which is a welcome addition to the SmackDown midcard. Raw got a big win when they landed The Drifter Elias Samson, but English can absolutely fill a similar easily hated role. Dillinger, meanwhile, remains an over midcard babyface act, and having him actually pick up two strong victories—rather than having him sell for extended lengths—is an encouraging sign.

Here’s hoping that English starts using his old, “Spotlight, please!” gimmick from NXT.

Lana is starting an act of her own, separate from Rusev, as a dancer. We’ll see how this goes.


It is understandable that some may be less excited for SmackDown Live today than last week. Your mileage may vary, but losing talkers and characters the caliber of The Miz and Maryse and Alexa Bliss has put a dent in the blue brand. While immense talents, it remains to be seen whether Owens, Zayn, Charlotte, and The New Day can mesh with the fabric of the show.

Given time, SmackDown has shown it can produce breakout acts and elevate careers to new levels. While its new assortment of talent doesn’t perhaps perfectly fit that bill, it won’t be any surprise to see the blue brand actually make them all seem greater than before.

But the most important aspect of last night’s “Shake-Up” was that there was no real change in the identity of the show. SmackDown Live is the babyface brand, the crowds are hugely into the show and are in attendance to be entertained rather than make laughable protest statements, and there remains a strong irreverent streak to the program. This week wasn’t its strongest of episodes, as it’s at its best when it’s knee deep in long term stories. A reset episode of this kind plays much more into Raw’s strengths than SmackDown’s.

Grade: 50

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