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WWE SmackDown preview (July 17, 2020): Oh Bray, where are thou?

WWE SmackDown returns tonight (July 17) from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. It is the final show prior to the Horror Show at Extreme Rules pay-per-view (PPV) this Sunday.

The Headliner

This Sunday, we’re getting a (non-title) Swamp Match between Bray Wyatt and Universal Champion Braun Strowman. It is likely the second match in their trilogy of matches given the Fiend has yet to make an appearance.

The Swamp Match and all that’s would lead up to it should actually be the most intriguing part of this story. It directly relates to the long standing history between both men. Braun Strowman debuted as the black sheep of Bray Wyatt’s cult. He learned under him. He served him. But only found real success after breaking from Wyatt’s grasp.

This chapter of their feud is meant to give the eventual title match, which will likely be a SummerSlam program featuring the Fiend, the weight it deserves. Instead it’s underdelivered.

The last time we saw Bray Wyatt was a month ago on June 19. That was a video as Fun House Bray and then briefly as OG cult leader Bray. The following week, Strowman cut a promo which set up Sunday’s Swamp Match.

Since then, the story hasn’t moved forward. One week they had a retrospective of their history. Last week, they replayed their Money in the Bank match from May. Meaning ever since they officially set up the match, they’ve done nothing to help build it.

It’s entirely possible that Bray Wyatt has opted to stay away from the WWE Performance Center in a time where WWE has dealt with multiple positive COVID-19 cases. In fact, he hasn’t been on TV from the PC since that Money in the Bank match, which aired May 10. But that doesn’t meant they couldn’t work a couple promos. He has promos with wrestlers via video all the time.

Tonight, Bray returns to the Firefly Fun House and hopefully we’ll get another peek at cult leader Bray before Sunday. Whatever they do, they have to do something to add some spice to their fight in the Brayou.

The Championship Scene:

The Women’s tag team champions Sasha Banks & Bayley are doing Charlotte level work. While they haven’t been on NXT for a couple weeks, they’re fixtures of both Raw and SmackDown. However, the tag gold will have to be put on hold because Bayley needs to focus on defending her SmackDown Women’s championship against Nikki Cross at Extreme Rules. Nikki is unpredictable and has an ally in Alexa Bliss to help neutralize Sasha Banks. So this isn’t going to be any walk in the park for the champ.

Matt Riddle gets an Intercontinental title shot against AJ Styles tonight. Riddle hasn’t lost on SmackDown and has a debut victory against the Phenomenal One. This is likely to set up a feud with Baron Corbin as it was doubtful Riddle was winning a title this soon even without the sexual assault allegation hanging over him.

Last week’s SmackDown tag team title match between the New Day and the Artist Collective (Cesaro & Shinsuke Nakamura) ended in a no contest when the referee lost control of it. The Collective then put the New Day through some tables. Hmmm... I wonder what kind of stipulation match they’re going to have at Extreme Rules when that match is inevitably announced.

Other things to keep an eye on:

- Jeff Hardy accepted Sheamus’ challenge for a bar fight, but the match was never made official. We’ll see if that happens tonight. With WWE taping in the same state as the new epicenter of COVID-19, a lot of matches may be up in the air until the last minute.

- Alexa Bliss is hosting a Moment of Bliss with a mystery guest. The graphic is that of a mystery woman, so maybe an NXT call up? Or word has it Mickie James has been cleared to return but doesn’t have creative just yet. She and Bliss have a history so that’s a possibility. I’ve seen speculation about it being Stephanie McMahon to talk up Evolution week, though I think they’d just announce her and not go the mystery route.

- The karaoke segment last week was bad, but I thought Naomi did well. But let’s not do it again. Feature Naomi more though.

- I wonder if Braun Strowman celebrating his 100 days as Universal champion with meat was a way to try to lure Money in the Bank holder Otis out of hiding.

What will you be looking for when SmackDown airs tonight at 8 PM ET on Fox?

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