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WWE SmackDown Live preview (Sept. 18, 2018): Uncertainty reigns

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Plotting a course from hell to Australia, WWE’s GPS has routed Team Blue through Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Headliners

Becky Lynch is once again Women’s Champion! (Boo the) Woo!

Kind of wish this was more the universally celebrated moment we all hoped it would be heading into SummerSlam, though. Not that the character alignments of the new champ and person she defeated at Hell in a Cell this past Sunday, Charlotte Flair, aren’t fascinating - and a topic the wrestling internet, of which this site is a prominent part, hasn’t kept alive.

Even as we head into what would normally be the “elated babyface/gloating heel holds a celebration, the bitter heel/wronged babyface crashes” fallout show segment tonight, uncertainty reigns. Check out the write-up on WWE.com’s official preview for the Sept. 18 episode:

Will The Queen ruin The Irish Lass Kicker’s triumphant return?

After overcoming Charlotte Flair at WWE Hell in a Cell, Becky Lynch has returned to glory as a two-time SmackDown Women’s Champion.

While Becky’s recent underhanded tactics against her one-time friend have paid off, there are few things more dangerous than The Queen after she has lost her crown.

So, depending upon whose camp you’re in, Becky’s scheduled Coronation will either serve as the return of the conquering Becky Balboa or the beginning of Charlotte Flair’s quest to recapture the blue brand title. Either way, fireworks are all but a certainty if these two decorated Superstars cross paths.“

The header and first line make it sound like Bex is a hero, the second paragraph talks about her like a villain, the wrap up more or less says “do whatever you want” to the audience. Which we have been. And will continue to do. It’s better if WWE doesn’t try to force us in either direction specifically, because the loudest among us will push back against that.

Why are we so fascinated with this topic?

It’s a couple things, I think. A lot of it has to do with who’s involved, especially the new champ. Much like Daniel Bryan before the company decided to see if they could make him a member of Bray Wyatt’s cult, through the charm of the performer and the (at times possibly inadvertant) booking of an underdog journey, Lynch became more than a fan favorite. She became a cause.

SmackDown’s creative team may have thought that would make her a more reviled villain - someone who turned her back on us after we’d long supported her. But the knowledge we’re watching scripted drama, and the way WWE markets not only their stories but the people who play the characters in those stories, meant we would never blame Rebecca Quin/Becky Lynch for the turn. We’d blame the company who called for it. And as the seven-time main roster champ who does all the biggest press visits, Flair is the company’s avatar in this game.

For viewers who believe we’re savvy about the wrestling business, and interested in how it’s evolving in the age of social media where stars and promotions build brands individually and as part of a larger narrative, the heel/face model is especially interesting. It’s been the basis of pro wrestling stories, and most drama, forever. But since the kayfabe curtain fell, “smart” graps fans have been intrigued by the notion of a “post-heels and faces” world.

It works for some stories. And Lynch vs. Flair is a prime example of one where it would, if WWE would get out of the way and not have one of the flawed-yet-relatable players blame the fans, or label her actions “HEINOUS”.

But it doesn’t always work. Some tales are better with a noble protagonist and a repugnant antagonist. A lot of the time when fans talk about doing away with heels and faces, they mean they want to cheer the bad guy or girl. You can! And you always have been able to. It’s more fun to do that AND dissect why we do it, or how the product we’re presented with does/doesn’t/should/shouldn’t encourage it, though. So we do.

Anyway, as a great philosopher once said, “These are the kind of things I think about when I’m sitting home alone and the power goes out”. Hopefully my power doesn’t go out Tuesday night, because however her segment is scripted, I’ll be cheering Becky Lynch. And then thinking too much about why, probably.

The Title Scene

There’s little doubt about who we’re supposed to boo in the top feud in SmackDown’s men’s division, or at least there wasn’t until AJ Styles retained his WWE Championship despite tapping out to Samoa Joe on pay-per-view (PPV). Shoudn’t a hero admit he gave up? What will Wendy and the kids think? While we ponder those questions, the Phenomenal One will give us a non-title dream match with Andrade Almas, as Cien and Zelina Vega play supporting roles in another big program on the blue brand. We’ll also wait for General Manager Paige to name the “must be a winner” stipulation for the already announced Joe/AJ rematch at Super Show-Down on Oct. 6 in Melbourne.

He couldn’t get on the Hell in a Cell card, but he will defend his belt against someone who couldn’t win in San Antonio. Sure. That makes sense. U.S. Titleholder Shinsuke Nakamura faces Rusev tonight, as the Bulgarian Brute and his tag partner Aiden English deal with the aftermath of their latest miscommunication-plagued missed opportunity.

With their victory over Rusev Day on last Sunday’s Kickoff, Tag Team Champions The New Day can turn their attention to finding out why Kofi Kingston and Kramer Kingsman are never in the same place, and perfecting their pumpkin spice pancake recipe. Oh, and their showdown with The Bar next month in Australia.

Other stuff to keep an eye on:

- That official SmackDown preview is teasing more hostilities in the war between Jeff Hardy and Randy Orton, despite Jeff being taken to a hospital local medical facility after losing in a match which is designed to be a feud ender. Okay. Sure.

- To celebrate their latest win over mortal enemies Brie Bella & Daniel Bryan, Maryse and her husband will welcome a “mystery guest” to Miz TV. It will probably tie into the A-Lister’s issues with DB, because they’re already booked for a singles match as Super Show-Down with a WWE title shot on the line.

- Seeing as El Ídolo cheated to beat him last week, R-Truth may not be done with Almas. Or he might be focused on getting ready for Mixed Match Challenge with partner Carmella before its season two premiere tonight.

- Asuka and Naomi like each other’s attitudes and share a love of teriyaki. What could go wrong?

It’s the Hell in a Cell fallout show!

What will you be looking for on SmackDown Live tonight?