SmackDown Live began its summer program in earnest with its Money in the Bank pay-per-view last night (June 18, 2017) in St. Louis.
Let’s get right to it.
For a blow-by-blow analysis, read the best live blog in the business from the exceptional ReverandKain.
A first time for everything
Last night we saw the first ever Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match.
Which was won by a man.
The cover image says it all, right? The end of a historic women’s match featuring a male antagonist arguing with male referees.
Yes, clearly this is a storyline they’re running, and frankly, yes, there are some interesting angles that WWE can take this. Your opinion may vary, but this seems like the company putting the cart way, way, way before the horse. (Cue the “virtue signaling” and “white knight” insults!)
While Carmella lay dead on the mat, James Ellsworth—who had just prior tipped the ladder over to knock Becky Lynch off—climbed the ladder, grabbed the briefcase, and dropped it to his “friend that is a girl.”
In a match billed as a historic first for women, you can’t have the male lackey be the one to physically unlatch the briefcase.
There’s just no getting past that. WWE may think they’ve launched a “Women’s Revolution” but the main roster has nowhere near enough legitimacy to run these sorts of booking decisions and have the heat transferred to the heel instead of the company itself. Perhaps this angle works better in NXT, where it’s well established for several years that women are treated as valuable parts of the show—legitimately, and not just as token props. The main roster just does not have this credibility, and frankly will never until a change in management occurs.
Again, one of the first big steps of this “Revolution/Evolution” was merely calling women, “women,” instead of Divas. Imagine hailing that as a legitimate step of progress in 2016 instead of realizing what an unbelievable black mark of shame it was for a decade.
All this match says is that WWE remains a company that somehow doesn’t know its own reputation, and that magically thinks a year of the bare minimum of simply treating their female competitors as actually worth the time of day fixes decades of overt misogyny.
Sorry, it don’t work that way.
It’s a shame because this was actually a really good ladder match—much more coherent and fluid than most. Charlotte, Becky, Tamina, Natalya, and Carmella are to be wildly commended for their performances, and it was clear that they all felt like they needed to knock it out of the park. They did just that, and then had their feet cut out from underneath.
Ironically, despite the nature of the finish, Carmella was almost certainly the right choice to win. Much like Alexa Bliss was last fall, Carmella is a wildly underrated performer—frankly, she’s the third best female promo on the main roster, and given that Bliss and Becky Lynch are exceptional talkers, it’s not a knock in the least. Her elevation is warranted on merit—but it remains odd that they have stuck her with a male mouthpiece when talking is her best attribute.
JUST LISTEN TO WHAT BECKY LYNCH WHO IS THE ARBITER OF VIRTUE AND GOODNESS HAD TO SAY:
Huffed and puffed
Toward the end of the Men’s Money in the Bank ladder match, the St. Louis crowd was thrown into a frenzy when AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, paired on opposite sides of a ladder, decided to discard the furniture and have a proper fight.
“AJ STYLES! NAKAMURA! AJ STYLES! NAKAMURA!”
Later, after giving it a right go, they both were at the summit, reaching for the Money in the Bank briefcase, the crowd baying for either to win the contact—only for both to be tipped over by Baron Corbin, who ascended to claim the briefcase—after a noticeable several second struggle with the latch—for himself.
Corbin had attacked Nakamura before the match, putting The King of Strong Style out of commission for much of the contest before he limped to the ring while The Lone Wolf looked to climb the ladder (which he easily could have finished doing so before the battered Nakamura made the ring, but instead he got down—wrestling gonna wrestling). Nakamura then got the better of literally every competitor in the match, throwing out Kinshasas left and right, before his clash with Styles.
This was a bonkers ladder match with a wild amount of high spots. US Champion Kevin Owens is a damned madmen for everything he put himself through, and Sami Zayn was no slouch in throwing caution to the wind neither. His sunset flip powerbomb over the top of the ladder on Dolph Ziggler was simply bonkers.
A match like this with these competitors will always be wildly entertaining, which is what this was. But Corbin winning was definitely the cherry on top of a night of depressing results.
No one will claim that WWE Champion Jinder Mahal’s defense against Randy Orton last night is a match of the year candidate, but at least it told a consistent story throughout of Mahal working Orton’s left knee and leg.
The Singh Brothers, who rescued Mahal from defeat by placing his foot on the rope after The Viper hit an RKO on the champion, were tossed from ringside by referee Mike Chioda for the act. But before leaving, they accosted Cowboy Bob Orton—seated with other legends—at ringside. Randy did not take kindly to this assault on his father on Father’s Day, and took several minutes to utterly wipe out the pair on the outside (for some reason Chioda never started a count) before, just like at Backlash, Mahal won due to the distraction.
He’s been in the company for 15 years, but somehow the character of Randy Orton doesn’t know to not turn his back on his opponent in a world championship match.
(Someone really needs to talk to Rich Swann about how to break the hometown curse, as he’s seemingly the only one to accomplish the feat—and Sasha Banks doesn’t deserve the credit, as girl lost decisively in her hometown in a historic Hell in a Cell main event.)
Where Orton goes from here is a mystery. He doesn’t really fit into any spot on the program.
Jinder, meanwhile, is a free man at the moment, with no challengers other than Mr. Money in the Bank Corbin.
Well, until July 4, that is.
Well, it wasn’t all bad...
... Because Naomi walked out of St. Louis with her SmackDown Women’s Championship after making Lana tap out clean as a whistle—with Ms. Money in the Bank Carmella hovering at ringside.
Frankly, the quality of the match was never going to be the important thing here. Rather it was only the win/loss that mattered, and WWE got this one thankfully right. Having that finish in the ladder match and then putting the championship on Lana would have simply been way, way, too much.
This match was structured very well, and for someone who hasn’t had a single singles match in WWE, Lana was competent enough. But there’s nothing that shows there’s any hidden level of in ring talent that only needs more reps to emerge, and given that Maria Kanellis is a better talker and character, it’s an open question what’s next for the “Ravishing Russian.”
It’s lost among everything else, but the SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos put on a great match with The New Day—that ended with, you guessed it, a flat finish as The Usos deliberately took a countout loss to retain their titles.
There was nothing inherently wrong with how this match ended. But on this card, given everything else, it was yet another sour blow. While it’s good that this program will continue, it is hard to separate the complete lack of fulfillment from everything else on the night.
All the rest
Maria and Mike Kanellis made their debuts. Maria as a manipulative powerplayer—as this introduction seemed to indicate—is the right call, and Mike taking her name is frankly inspired. Kudos. Eager to see where they go from here.
Breezango defeated The Ascension in a tag team match after earlier running a derivative “Fashion Vice” (ala “Miami Vice”) episode of “The Fashion Files.” It’s an encouraging sign that WWE continues to use these guys, and use them to their strengths. They remain an act truly deserving of SmackDown Live’s old tagline of “The Land of Opportunity.”
The Hype Bros beat The Colons on the Kickoff show in a very solid tag match. Mojo Rawley remains a potential breakout star.
- WWE Champion: heel.
- US Champion: heel.
- Women’s Champion: face.
- Tag Team Champions: heels.
- Mr. Money in the Bank: heel.
- Ms. Money in the Bank: heel.
Remember when SmackDown Live was the face brand? (Maybe General Manager Daniel Bryan’s return on Tuesday will solve everything!)
Maybe this is setting up for a triumphant babyface sweep at SummerSlam, but that’s two months from now (and is also no sure thing). When watching the show on a weekly basis, this overt negativity is simply draining for a product that is supposed to be a relief from the dumpster fire that is the real world.
It might be different were people like The Miz and Alexa Bliss—universally acknowledged to be exceptional performers, regardless of being heels—in these spots. But when your top heels frankly just aren’t particularly entertaining? You end up with fans wanting to see babyfaces win simply for the booking decision rather than any actual investment. Don’t blame the fans: This is the trajectory WWE has decided to take.
Why the Reality Era has decided that the company should be the biggest heel instead of the actual performers is a mystery, but lordy does it make for a lot of really dour wrestling.
It is easy for a wrestling program to tell stories and also not be depressing 90 percent of the time. Just look at NXT.
Unfortunately, that very simple goal seems past the main roster.