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WWE SmackDown preview (July 16, 2019): The Return of Bryan

SmackDown Live returns tonight (July 16) from the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. It is the fallout show from Extreme Rules and the first episode of the Eric Bischoff era.

The Headliner

The first episode of the Eric Bischoff SmackDown era may or may not feel any different than the last episode of the pre-Bischoff era. Maybe we won’t notice much as he starts to get his bearings in his new job. Maybe we’ll notice some subtleties. (To be fair, there were some minor changes in feel the last few weeks prior to Bischoff’s rumored start date). Maybe it’ll be clear there’s a new man at the helm, behind Vince McMahon of course.

One thing SmackDown should do, whether it’s Easy E’s idea or something they’ve already been planning, perhaps indicated by this fallout video and the fact he’s making a “career altering decision” tonight, is reestablish Daniel Bryan as a singles star.

Putting him in the tag division when they did made sense. Jeff Hardy got hurt and they were extremely low on tag teams on Tuesdays. Bryan is always entertaining, and it made sense to use him as a stopgap in the tag division. He already delivered great moments, whether it be looking at Otis in disgust or the narration of his photo shoot with Rowan.

Now, it’d be an exaggeration to say that the tag division has been built back up. Heavy Machinery has surely impressed in their title feuds and WWE now knows they have something with them. They New Day are always reliable and they’re champions again. But outside the lowly B-Team, there aren’t any tag teams on the SmackDown roster. However, with the Wild Card rule, they can bring any team from Raw over to fill that gap. It’s clear they don’t care about who’s on what roster so they can use any tag team they want on SmackDown.

That leaves Bryan to return to working as a solo competitor.

Bryan is too damn good to be wasted as a tag act. While the tag division deserves a strong anchor, Bryan is bound to get lost there. WWE forgets the tag division for weeks at a time. There’s so much more he can do when he’s a spotlight attraction. And there’s so many people can work.

The Planet’s Champion could try to reclaim his WWE championship in a proper rematch feud with Kofi Kingston. He could work Roman Reigns on top of the card. He could feud with a now babyface Kevin Owens. He can work in the upper midcard to help elevate those talents and deliver incredible matches with Finn Bálor, Andrade, Ali, or Shinsuke Nakamura.

That promo from after Extreme Rules teases something new for Bryan. But what in the world was he talking about? What’s a level that’s higher than he’s been? He’s been WWE champion. Hell, he’s been GM. What’s left for D Bry?

Wherever it is, it’s bound to be great since it’ll be Daniel Bryan selling it.

The Championship Scene

Surprise, surprise! Samoa Joe couldn’t get the job done in trying to win the WWE championship from Kofi Kingston. And there’s zero reason that he should get another opportunity. With SummerSlam around the corner, it’s time for Kofi to face a true test. A quick heel turn Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, and Samoa Joe never felt like true threats. (Kevin Owens now on the other hand...) That’s going to change when he has to defend his title at the Biggest Party of the Summer.

Bayley retained her SmackDown Women’s championship in a handicap match. Much like Kofi, she too needs another challenge for SummerSlam in Toronto. Charlotte Flair is the most likely option given she never got a chance to win the title back. (To be fair, she had just won it minute prior to losing it, and there are no automatic rematches.) But looking at that SmackDown roster, the Queen is the only real threat to take it.

Shinsuke Nakamura won the Intercontinental championship on the Kickoff of Extreme Rules. It wasn’t even the second Kickoff match. It was the first, when there were the least amount of people in the crowd. That mean we’ll probably get a rematch to solidify we’re moving on from Finn, who’s IC title run was rather lackluster. Even if that does happen, Finn should look over the shoulders for the Fiend, Bray Wyatt’s alter ego that attacked him last night.

The New Day are the new SmackDown tag team champions. As we spoke about earlier, the only team left if Daniel Bryan is indeed leaving the division is Heavy Machinery. Expect to see a team from Raw, such as the Viking Raiders, step into that void.

One of these days, the Kabuki Warriors will get that Women’s tag team championship match against the IIconics. That day is finally today!

Other things to keep an eye on:

- The biggest event from the blue bland last week was Kevin Owens channeling his inner Stone Cold and reaching his full potential as a babyface. This was always who KO was meant to be. He’s easily likable but he’s not a traditional good guy. Could this lead to a match with Shane McMahon at SummerSlam?

- The Big Dog finished up some business with Shane himself at Extreme Rules. Now he needs a marquee match at SummerSlam. Unless he faces Shane instead of KO, given that Shane does own a singles pinfall victory over Roman that he should get back, Reigns will be looking for a new opponent. May I suggest Daniel Bryan?

- Whatever the plans for Shane at SummerSlam, we’ll probably get an idea during his town hall meeting tonight.

- A lot of attention will be paid to the “feel” of the show with Eric Bischoff finally putting his imprint on it. I am very excited for an Aces & Eights reunion.

- Ember Moon needs to find a mystery partner to face Fire and Desire. Who doesn’t love a good mystery partner reveal?

Will tonight’s episode have a different feel that we’ll credit to Easy E tonight? Or will it feel like business as usual when SmackDown rolls into Worcester tonight?

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