Just under three weeks away from its Backlash pay-per-view, SmackDown Live stopped in Fresno, California last night (May 2, 2017). Kevin Owens looked to regain the United States Championship from his former best friend and new SmackDown Live Superstar Chris Jericho. For full results and the live blog from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.
Much of SmackDown Live’s best ever segments were vignettes—the entire saga of Total Bellas Bull****, the Dolphumentary—but The Miz’ leaving for Raw left a gaping hole in the show’s fabric. Last night’s episode may just have unearthed a pair of someones who can help restore that “comedy with a purpose” side that brought so many colorful moments to Tuesday nights over the last nine months.
The first episode of The Fashion Files, complete with Law and Order riff, ran last night. Breezango were shown in uniform in their fashion police precinct, discussing all the crimes that their opponents at Backlash—the SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Ugos ... sorry, The Usos—were guilty of committing. (Claiming two of their offenses were “Jeywalking ... and Jimmywalking” was absolutely hilarious.) Behind Breeze was a “Pepe Silvia” esque bulletin board displaying various superstars and press clippings—which will all no doubt be revealed by industrious Real Journalisms in short order.
It lasted only a few minutes, but you’d be hard pressed to find any fan who didn’t immediately want more Fashion Files after last night. This was top notch stuff, and once again showed SmackDown’s more fluid, individually-tuned creative side.
As AJ Styles put it on Talking Smack, “SmackDown Live makes them, Raw takes them! We make Superstars over here, that is what we do!” The Fashion Files look like they’ll be yet one more example of SmackDown’s creative philosophy fostering breakout stars.
And it should be great to see how The Ugos—err, you know what I mean—respond in the coming weeks to more jabs from the number one contenders.
Battle lines drawn ... maybe
Carmella pinned SmackDown Women’s Champion Naomi in a tag team match. Before the contest, Naomi’s partner Charlotte was ambushed backstage by the “Welcoming Committee” (please come up with a better stable name than this), which led to Naomi working the first half of the match handicapped versus Carmella and Natalya. The Queen eventually made her way to the ring and entered with a dynamite hot tag, but eventually the prior damage she had suffered and the lengthy 2-on-1 assault that Naomi had received before Charlotte arrived took their toll. Carmella eventually got the win when Naomi was distracted by James Ellsworth on the apron, allowing Ms. Fabulous to roll up the champion with a handful of tights.
Asskicker Charlotte might be her very best role, but it’s very much up in the air whether that will actually get her over in a top face position with the crowd. Naomi and Becky Lynch are already extremely well liked, and Charlotte has been the top female heel in WWE for close to 18 months.
Speaking of the punmaster, the Welcoming Committee continued to work over Naomi and Charlotte post-match, prompting the crowd to again chant, “Becky! Becky! Becky!” This week her music did indeed hit, and she very deliberately, very slowly, walked to the ring.
Earlier in the night Lynch was approached backstage by The Legacies and was told by Natalya that they were just looking out for her—that Charlotte had turned on her before and would likely do it again, and that if anyone should be upset that Charlotte waltzed into SmackDown Live and immediately demanded honor and glory, it should be the blue brand’s first female draft pick and inaugural champion. Carmella noted that they would Becky’s back if she joined up with them, and Natalya furthered the point by saying she should join the group because “SmackDown Live needs you.”
Lynch played the moment absolutely wonderfully, saying: “I never thought of it like that. Let me think about it.” And what’s more, you believed that she was actually taken aback and attempting to process the information.
The heels are disingenuous, surely, but their argument is actually pretty spot on, and Becky’s acting chops are just downright phenomenal. When Becky Lynch thinks or feels something, it’s expressly communicated to the audience. There are few in the company who have as great an understanding of their character as her.
When she reached the ring, Lynch initially acted as if she was joining up with The Legacies, shaking all of their hands before finally arriving at James Ellsworth. She refused a handshake of his, however, and signaled for a hug—but she then threw Ellsworth into the assembled goons and attacked the heel group. She briefly got the upper hand before the numbers game caught up to her, and again the Welcoming Committee stood tall.
The question here is whether SmackDown may have played its hand too soon. The burgeoning “Whose side is she on?” storyline with Lynch had an immense amount of promise, but if all we got out of it was one week before The Lasskicker revealed her innate goodness and then it boils down to a straight trios contest—well, that seems a bit underwhelming, no?
Until proven otherwise, there always remains the possibility that Charlotte will somehow eventually emerge the leader of The Legacies, but with every passing week that seems increasingly unlikely. And Naomi—the champion of the division—turning is simply out of the question.
But without an actual true number one heel, the trio of heel legacies will forever seem a minor threat. There are only so many weeks a trio of performers clearly viewed as lower on the totem pole can stand tall over an opposing trio that is far superior in kayfabe—after a short while it’ll just seem ridiculous.
Perhaps Lynch will be alienated next week by Charlotte, who frankly didn’t act all that face-like before she was ambushed by the goons. (There was a really great bit by her during the ambush segment—when she was lying on the ground and Carmella grabbed her hair, she ineffectually attempted to slap The Princess of Staten Island. Just a wonderfully useless gesture that got across her plight extremely well.) If Charlotte proves ungrateful, Lynch could possibly move back to a strictly neutral position (perhaps she’ll be spotted in the rafters?), which would even the face/heel dynamic.
It’s not entirely certain that WWE realizes it, but this is Becky Lynch’s story. By keeping her initially separate, she’s been made, intentionally or not, the featured and most important player in all this.
It will be a massive shame if all that comes of this is a straightforward trios match, because it really could and should be so much more. Even more, it will be a massive shame if this isn’t a story vehicle to bring Lynch back into the spotlight more after she did such a tremendous job of helping make Alexa Bliss a big star.
The top championship program on SmackDown Live heated up when new United States Champion Chris Jericho, AJ Styles, and Kevin Owens verbally sparred in the show’s first segment. Extra props for Styles not immediately receiving Jericho with open airs, instead reminding Y2J of their brief tag team partnership last year. Owens emerged in short order, saying to his former best friend, “Jericho, you think the Festival of Friendship was bad, you think WrestleMania was bad, you have no idea what is coming for you tonight. And AJ, get the hell out of my ring.”
Styles obliged—well, if rolling out of the ring and immediately beating the snot out of Owens means obliging. The Phenomenal One was eventually pulled off The Prizefighter by a number of referees and Commissioner Shane McMahon.
In the show’s main event, and to the surprise of literally no one, Owens regained the US Championship, first putting Jericho down with a DDT on the outside and then eventually finishing him off with a popup powerbomb. This didn’t particularly stand out from their contests at WrestleMania or Payback, and the decision to put the title on Jericho for only two days seems truly puzzling. Surely SmackDown could have just taken Jericho in the ShakeUp if this was always the plan. There doesn’t seem to have been any particularly worthy reason to so needlessly hotshot the championship, especially given that it’s the de facto top title on the blue brand.
The post-match beatdown also seemed strangely subdued. If ever there was a time for an apron bomb to put someone on the shelf, surely last night was ... it. Not sure that one extra powerbomb in the ring and a post shot with a chair on the neck warrants two months off in kayfabe. Sure felt like the malicious Owens should have gone a lot further than he did, and it brought that whole segment down somewhat.
The numbers game spells trouble for Zayn, again
The show’s cold open saw Jinder Mahal taking a photoshoot backstage with the WWE Championship that he had stolen from Randy Orton. SmackDown Commissioner Shane McMahon approached The Maharaja, took the belt back, and told him he’d be fighting Zayn.
Of course, The Singh Brothers accompanied Mahal to ringside, and eventually their presence proved the difference. With Zayn setting up to hit a plancha over the top rope, Samir grabbed his leg while the referee was distracted, allowing Mahal to slide back in and hit his finisher for the victory.
Poor Sami. He just can’t catch a break. Seemingly on his way to a big victory over the number one contender for the ostensible top title, and has it stolen away once more. A few more great babyface promos—and please air them on the show, rather than just online—and we’ll be well on our way for Zayn’s SmackDown Journey.
Mahal and Zayn’s respective feuding partners were both absent. WWE Champion Randy Orton was off tonight, presumably selling the after effects of that horrible House of Horrors match Sunday night. Baron Corbin was suspended due to his shoving of referee Danilo Anfibio last week on Talking Smack.
All the rest
Tye Dillinger defeated Aiden English in short order with a new, modified version of his Tyebreaker. Before the match, English was reprising his “Drama King” role until he was interrupted by Dillinger’s music—to which the former Vaudevillian responded with a wonderfully frustrated “GAH!” After the contest, English completely lost his cool and fell into hysterics in the ring. A short while later, Chris Jericho was being interviewed by Ronnie—sorry, Renee—Young when English walked by. Initially Y2J tried to cheer English up, but quickly grew tired of Aiden’s mopey behavior and proceeded to put him—and poor Ronnie!—on The List. This caused English to breakdown even more. We’ll have to see where this goes, but it’s a potentially interesting path for a pretty solid character heel like the former NXT Tag Team Champion.
Tom Phillips laughing at Jericho’s backstage announcer gag was a nice touch.
Dolph Ziggler beat Sin Cara after talking trash about Shinsuke Nakamura backstage. It was fine. Ziggler’s performances of late are a bit worrying for the prospect of putting The King of Strong Style over in a big way in Chicago.
This show badly misses The Miz.
Lana is still coming soon.
Last night’s episode of SmackDown Live was mostly inoffensive and occasionally good, but the only particularly memorable bit was the introduction of The Fashion Files.