Two days after its hugely controversial Money in the Bank pay-per-view, SmackDown Live hit Dayton, Ohio, last night (June 20, 2017). General Manager Daniel Bryan was back and planned to address Carmellsworthgate head on. For full results and the best live blog in the business from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.
This is a complicated episode of SmackDown Live to review, and we all know where the focus will be, so let’s get to it.
But first, let us listen to the wise words of Avon Barksdale:
Wrestling is a peculiar form of art in that virtually any decision can and will be defended on the grounds of whether it made money or not. But art has a larger social responsibility beyond making money, and if WWE ever wants to truly gain the social acceptance (and actually big advertising dollars) it craves, it needs to do a better job of presenting itself intelligently—rather than try to draw eyeballs via the gory nature of car crash storytelling.
To wit, just because they’re “telling a story” doesn’t automatically make any sort of gambit kosher. Ideas can be wrongheaded; stories can suck. When you play into and in fact deepen the negative perception of the company when it comes to gender relations—which is exactly what WWE did on Sunday—it is a conclusive failure in “storytelling” and should not have been done.
There’s simply no excuse to not have a woman unlatch the briefcase in the very first Money in the Bank match for the division.
But no matter what side of the fence you’re on it was vitally important for SmackDown to move forward in a direction that suggests awareness on the part of the company and offers legitimate hope for the viewer.
WWE might have done that.
There are a couple of ways to take the decision to strip Carmella of the briefcase and rerun the ladder match next week due to James Ellsworth’s actions in St. Louis:
- This was always the original plan: Degrading a historic first to set up a TV main event two weeks later seems foolhardy, especially given that you can’t whitewash what took place Sunday. (Moreover, it feels like something out of late-era WCW, which is never a good sign.) There are no do overs. They had their chance to make history, and as Charlotte correctly noted to Daniel Bryan, “Well, I guess we did”—but for all the wrong reasons.
- This is a reaction to the negative response: It’s good that WWE would acknowledge its mistake, but now they may have undercut a potential breakout star in Carmella. In one promo, Carmella had shown that she could possibly begin to turn the meta heat into heat on herself. Now, if she doesn’t win the briefcase again next week, her character will be crippled right when it looked like she could become a legitimate player. She absolutely should win next week, even with Ellsworth assisting again if necessary—just have her grab the damn case this time.
(Extra special props to Carmella for both displaying real emotion when she was being stripped of the briefcase and later fake crying on Talking Smack. She’s really good at this.)
Taken as a whole, a famous quote uttered by Bubbles in season three of The Wire comes to mind regarding WWE’s approach last night:
Someone in creative should have realized Sunday’s plan was foolhardy and course corrected before it ever came to this. It’s hard not to think that if there were more (any?) female voices in the creative room, Carmellsworthgate never would have made TV.
Ultimately what this shows is that the key to not making a second mistake is to not make the first one.
It’s unfortunate that the only thing that’l be remembered from this show was that decision, because this actually felt like a vintage episode of SmackDown Live. And there’s one very big reason for that.
Return of the faces
Only minutes into the show it was apparent that SmackDown Live was simply not the same without Daniel Bryan. It is perhaps strange that the general manager of the brand is its biggest star, but it remains undoubtedly true. The undeniable and relentless positivity that the audience feels for the character buoys the entire show and indeed brand. It seems like nobody fully realized how much his absence muted SmackDown’s ethos, and how integral his character is to what made the show such a white hot product last fall and winter.
The show-long arc of each woman presenting the case to Bryan for why Sunday night’s result should not stand was a cohesive narrative, and allowed everyone to get in good bits: Charlotte Flair’s forceful—and in this instance, righteous—demanding, which left a dominant impression; Natalya’s relentless asskissing interrupted by Tamina’s bluntness; and Becky Lynch’s utter goodness.
AJ Styles calls himself “The Face of SmackDown Live,” and many have argued that The Miz was the key player to the blue brand’s success. But it’s Bryan who ties it all together, and in his person the brand has a universally beloved central figure that just leaves one with a good feeling. But it wasn’t just Bryan who brought back an era of good feelings to Tuesday nights.
Two days after a very depressing pay-per-view, SmackDown again felt more upbeat as babyfaces made their marks all over the show. Regardless of the meta realities, Bryan’s decision to strip Carmella of the briefcase—and threat to punch James Ellsworth in the mouth—was undeniably the act of a babyface general manager. But others stood out as well, in particular during one backstage segment.
Putting the trio of Sam Zayn, Becky Lynch, and Bryan together to discuss goodness and virtue and having everyone pull for each other was bloody good television and a wonderful babyface segment. There may not be three more virtuous characters in the entire company, and seeing them all together was like a ray of sunshine. And you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think you want to see more of Zayn and Lynch playing off each other, as their combined antics surely would be a hit.
During the segment, Lynch cut yet another dynamite babyface promo—this time on TV!—in which she made it plain to Bryan what decision he should reach regarding the women’s briefcase. It is notable that she was the last woman to discuss the scenario with Bryan, and one can only infer that her goodness and purity of thought compelled Bryan to come to the decision he did.
Straight fire, indeed. You tell him, Bex!
Zayn (who was granted a match with Corbin next week) later did a delightful bit of product placement with Tye Dillinger, in which Sami acted the part of a market reviewer of sorts for Sonic shakes. Dillinger, of course, gave every option a Perfect 10, much to Zayn’s chagrin. This was very good pro wrestling.
Frankly, it needs to not be a one time thing. Sami Zayn reviewing things is an inspired piece of business, and his cheery neuroticism is perhaps the positive flipside of what Andy Daly brought to Comedy Central’s Review.
“Sami Zayn’s Yelp Reviews”—tell me that’s not a great online segment that sometimes could reach TV.
The New Day also came to play, notably on Talking Smack where the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions in history bantered Renee Young into submission and made Daniel Bryan hug and kiss the skeleton of “Jaheem Uso.”
Even American Alpha made a worthy appearance, with Chad Gable putting in a good fight against Kevin Owens during the “Face of America” United States Championship Open Challenge. Owens had initially promised to give a Dayton local a chance to face him, and when AJ Styles’ music hit, Owens correctly noted that Styles is very much not from Dayton.
But Gable would not be deterred, and when he came to the ring he noted that he had just moved to Dayton... earlier that day! When Owens demanded his address, Gable immediately responded with “3640 Colonel Glenn Highway”—the address of Wright State University, the social media team of which were clearly following the episode. This earned Gable the match, and despite ultimately losing, the goofy charm combined with in ring stuff like a pretty moonsault and a Chaos Theory bridging German suplex made Gable—and thus Alpha as a whole—look more engaging than they have in a very long time.
It also bodes well down the road for an eventual singles career for the former Olympian.
Stunning that when good guys and girls look good, the show is fun to watch.
All the rest
WWE Champion Jinder Mahal defeated Luke Harper—despite Mr. Money in the Bank Baron Corbin making a ringside appearance—in the main event after distraction from The Singh Brothers. But it was the presence of Randy Orton—who earlier in the night backstage had claimed that Jinder and his cronies had made it personal by putting hands on his father Sunday night—who gave the segment a lift to close the show, with both Singh Brothers eating RKOs as Jinder hightailed it through the crowd.
Shinsuke Nakamura beat Dolph Ziggler in a Backlash rematch, and honestly this was a far superior version of their match in Chicago. This was very much a back and forth affair in which both guys, but especially Nakamura, got a ton of offense. Shinsuke won with a vicious Kinshasa.
JBL selling Nakamura extra strong on commentary certainly doesn’t hurt, neither.
Big E defeated “Jim” Uso in singles competition to continue the main feud in the tag team division.
Elsewhere, the Hype Bros reviewed the footage from last December when Zack Ryder had won the team the number one contendership and asked Daniel Bryan to grant them a title match. Instead, they have a chance next week against The Usos—beat the champs in non-title competition, and they’ll get a shot at the gold.
“Beat the champs to get a title opportunity” is not the greatest trope ever, but at least this time it fits in continuity—they really were the number one contenders, but lost their spot due to injury.
Lana is getting another chance at Naomi’s SmackDown Women’s Championship next week, which hopefully will end the same way as Sunday’s match. There’s no reason to take the belt off Naomi, and certainly no reason to put it on Lana.
Undoubtedly, the blue brand had the attention of the WWE Universe this week. The sort of work-shoot we saw last night—playing on the real-life perception of the company when it comes to its women’s division—was a hallmark of SmackDown during its heyday last year, but there’s absolutely a case WWE was trying to be too clever for their own good by literally undoing the ladder match from Sunday. This feels sort of like that.
On the other hand, the show felt fluid, with the aforementioned episode-long arc, which ultimately led to justice being done (temporarily, at least) in storyline. Babyfaces looked good, heels got comeuppance—it was a breeze to get through two hours, even without Breezango making an appearance.
The confusion and uncertainty makes this episode very difficult to grade, but on the whole the show felt more #SDL than it has in months. That’s a good thing.