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WWE SmackDown Live Recap & Reactions (July 11, 2017): The power of love

And a tantalizing tease from AJ Styles and John Cena.

United States Champion AJ Styles and John Cena

San Antonio played host to SmackDown Live last night (July 11, 2017), featuring the reaction to AJ Styles’ winning the United States Championship at Madison Square Garden this past Friday.

For full results and the best live blog in the business from the exceptional Reverend Kain, click here.

On message

Love is a complicated emotion, and one can feel it for all sorts of different things: people, places, things, ideas. But it’s how you present your love that stands out—are you loving to be good, or to be bad? Many of the blue brand’s characters exhibit some sort of love:

  • John Cena explained on Talking Smack that he loves WWE and loves the industry, which is why he’d do something like fly from Sydney, Australia, on Monday to be at SmackDown Live last night. He noted that everything he does as a part-timer is to help expand the reach of WWE, as that makes all his accomplishments and the accomplishments of everyone else in the company matter more—and you believe him.
  • The hyper-nationalist villains all presumably love their countries, but we’re meant to boo them because their countries are ... not America? ... This is admittedly a rather problematic example, but it is in fact what WWE is presenting.
  • Tea TimeBecky Lynch and Charlotte—are fully back to being loving best friends.
  • Naomi, who struggled so long to get to the top, loves proving herself a worthy champion any chance she gets.

It may be only a secondary program on SmackDown Live, but the brewing row between Maria and Mike Kanellis and Sami Zayn well represented last night’s show. Maria and Mike Kanellis love each other, but are wildly and deliberately obnoxious with their presentation of said affection. They’re trying to rub it in the faces of all others around them, not actually make a worthy endorsement of love.

After several weeks—starting at Money in the Bank—of accidental Zayn interruptions of the Kanellis’ canoodling backstage, Maria finally had enough. Despite Zayn’s repeated and sincere apologies, and even an endorsement of their message last week, The First Lady of SmackDown Live went to the men’s locker room to demand another.

Chad Gable answered, and was bewildered to see Maria standing before him and asking for Zayn—whom he called “Sami Wow Wow”—before saying he wasn’t there.

Later on Sami caught up the with couple, who were acting all lovey dovey with a bouquet of flowers. When Maria demanded that Zayn apologize once more, Sami took umbrage. He’d already apologized several times, and frankly none of them were truly deserved, since all he’d been doing was going about his business to perform on the show. He bemusedly asked what what they were even doing on SmackDown, and when Maria answered, Sami correctly deduced that she was the power holder and the true player to address.

For his troubles he got a vicious slap from Maria, a vase to the back of his head from Mike, and a delightfully trolling exit line from The First Lady that sometimes, “love hurts.”

Zayn was also really good on Talking Smack in laying out just what makes Maria and Mike’s proclamations so insincere—notably without taking retrograde shots at Mike taking Maria’s name or resorting to any other emasculations. He remains perhaps the most underrated talker in the company, and is certainly one of its top babyface promos.

So far the Kanellis’ have had a very gradual rollout, but now their prominence is about to amp up dramatically. This is going to be a very fun program, and it’s hard not to ... love ... its beginnings.

The faces that run the place

So newly-crowned United States Champion AJ Styles opened the show and announced that he was restoring John Cena’s old “US Championship Open Challenge.”

The first challenger?

John Cena.

The crowd was legitimately shocked, as they should have been, as Cena was apparently in Sydney, Australia, on Monday. That’s a long, long flight for a random SmackDown Live episode.

Juuuuuuust before the match was set to begin, Kevin Owens’ music hit and he protested that anyone other than he was facing Styles for the title. Eventually Rusev stormed into the ring from the other side, attacking Cena and inevitably setting up a tag team match for the night’s main event.

This was a really wonderful way to set up the inevitable tag match—a different way to get to a familiar place. What’s best is that it relied on very simple, very classic pro wrestling psychology—desperately tease the crowd with a surprise that’s ever so tantalizing, and then have the heels pull it away at the last possible moment. These are the sorts of little things that SmackDown got consistently right in the fall when it was at its peak.

The good guys won in the end after a fun tag match (which is hardly a surprise given the participants), with Cena finishing off Owens’ with an AA.

Having Cena hold up Styles’ arm at the end was another symbolic passing of the torch from Cena to The Phenomenal One, this time representing that Styles was now the rightful scion of the Challenge—even if Cena guaranteed in an earlier backstage segment that he’s definitely going to try to wrest back the claim from Styles at some point.

Everything in this program during the show added up to a really fun way to present what was ostensibly a very basic tag team main event.

Throw ‘em all together

SmackDown Women’s Champion Naomi approached Commissioner Shane McMahon backstage to ask, now that she’d thoroughly disposed of Lana, who her next challenger would be. This led to Charlotte, Becky Lynch, Natalya, Lana, and Tamina all appearing to make their own case. Shane announced that he was setting up a Five-Way Elimination Match at Battleground to determine who would be Naomi’s challenger at SummerSlam. After the presumptive challengers left, Carmella appeared to give Shane a note from her lawyer demanding James Ellsworth be reinstated, which he read and then promptly tore up.

Later in the night, Tea Time lost to the team of Natalya and Tamina in tag action when Lana distracted from ringside. This allowed Tamina to beat Charlotte with a superkick—insert eyes emoji here—after Charlotte failed to see a tag and attempted to put Natalya in the Figure Eight. It was a good way of using a distraction finish that made it feel a bit different than most other distraction finishes.

So SmackDown decided to go with the totally original decision of running a multi-woman match on a pay-per-view. The one benefit is that ostensibly it will lead to a singles match at SummerSlam, but the odds of that remaining just a singles match have to be set pretty low.

Granted, there remains a permanent lack of depth in the division—which made the trifecta of Lana matches actually quite an intelligent device to keep the champion on the air and make her look dominant—but it’s not hard to remember just how awesome SmackDown Women’s Division was when it had three separate singles feuds going early this year. Since the build to WrestleMania began, both brands have moved away from that philosophy—to the detriment of both divisions and both shows.

If you’re going to run these big five hour dual-brand pay-per-views, the least that WWE can do is two lengthy singles championship matches and additionally some sort of combination of tag or multi-woman matches if indeed everyone must be on the card. (Ideally even more singles matches in hot feuds would be ideal, but that seems out of the question.)

It’s not hard. Do better.

All the rest

Breezango continued their investigation as to who is continually raiding their office, this time in Western-attire complete with Fandango riding a plastic horse and Tyler Breeze attempting to control a huge “truth lasso.” They attempted to question Zack Ryder, but Breeze instead tied himself up in the lasso. Before they could fix the situation, Mojo Rawley arrived on the scene, wondering “What have I walked into?” He then said that The Hype Bros wouldn’t do something shady like ransack Fashion Headquarters, which caused Ryder to remark on Rawley’s elimination of him in last week’s battle royal.

This was a really smart way to use The Fashion Police in a way to both entertain with their antics and advance a separate story on the show. SmackDown is using these segments very well.

During the scene, someone managed to sneak in and steal Tully the Horse (clever!), leaving The Fashion Police again bewildered. Next week we get an X-Files riff, which should also be highly entertaining.

Can’t wait for an eventual episode of The Fashion Files based on The Wire. (Please.) Lookin’ for them blue tops!

Shinsuke Nakamura attacked Baron Corbin before their match could get started. Nakamura, who was fed up with Corbin’s prior assaults, didn’t want for the bell and took the fight to Mr. Money in the Bank in the entryway—but head on, and not from behind. The pair brawled before eventually being separated, with Nakamura doing his “come on” gimmick to a retreating Corbin. They’ll face each other at Battleground in two weeks.

After their rap battle last week, Xavier Woods defeated Jimmy Uso in singles competition after Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Jey Uso had been tossed from ringside. The New Day and The Usos will square off for the tag titles in Philadelphia.

WWE Champion Jinder Mahal beat Tye Dillinger clean in singles competition, and then cut a promo warning Randy Orton that he’s bringing the Punjabi Prison structure to SmackDown Live next week. All right?

On the bright side of things, at least there weren’t three promos this week all with the same “generic anti-American” schtick. It’s kind of unfortunate that Jinder doesn’t respond to the rote “USA” chants by informing the crowd he’s actually from Canada, not India. Doing so could be an interesting comment on assimilation and otherness, and rightly call out the crowd for its automatic xenophobic response.

That’s far too clever, though.

Talking Smack highlights:

  • Renee Young teased a John Cena 2020 presidential campaign.
  • Cena is such a good talker he spins being a part-timer into a legitimate babyface action.
  • Shane McMahon was more animated than usual because he was allegedly drinking Moonshine.
  • He still wasn’t Daniel Bryan—but was indeed improved!

An above-average show, with a bunch of small segments throughout the night that built just about every program on the brand. The Runway Walker, Texas Rangers bit and the Zayn-Kanellis feud were particularly enjoyable. Last night’s episode did a solid enough job of moving toward Battleground, now only 12 days away.

But the lack of Daniel Bryan forever remains glaring. It’s just not the same show without the powerful love that the WWE audience has for the blue brand’s general manager.

Grade: 55

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