WWE held Friday Night SmackDown this week from North Little Rock, Arkansas. Get a complete look at the show with the live blog right here.
Becky Lynch returned to WWE at SummerSlam and instantly created a polarizing moment for the entire fan base. She strong armed her way into a title shot against Bianca Belair and then beat her in 26 seconds using some underhanded tactics, offering a hand shake and then cheap shotting Belair when she went to accept said handshake.
Reports quickly made the rounds that this represented Lynch coming back as a heel, as per her request, and also she may have been inspired by Roman Reigns. This is all information that, because we’re privy to it, can alter our perception of the performance we’re seeing on TV.
To that end, it felt like her promo to open SmackDown didn’t work. That may be entirely because of my own expectation that she would suddenly be acting like some supreme rule breaker, a heel we can relish in booing. She acted like nothing of the sort.
Instead, she played it very much like a babyface. In fact, this was the Lynch we were all mostly expecting upon her return — mischievous, sure, but in that lovable way you can excuse because she’s a bit of an antihero. Without the tint of my aforementioned expectation of how she should be acting, it almost certainly would have played rather well.
If the idea is that she’s a heel, however, I don’t understand nor agree with the idea of focusing on Belair simply not being ready for Lynch because she had prepared for Sasha Banks, who pulled out at the last minute. That’s not necessarily a bad excuse, but why not lean into what actually happened? She’s a fighting champion, who readily accepted the match with Lynch, and she was really only caught off guard because she assumed Becky was honorable when offering a handshake before the fight. Lynch proved her wrong when she used that opening to cheap shot her.
This actually makes Lynch a despicable heel while ensuring Belair doesn’t look weak. Anyone can be caught off guard assuming the best of someone and being taken advantage of. It perfectly sets up the comeback as well. That’s a solid story and would do away with many of the complaints of how the SummerSlam match was handled.
To their credit, the story still works well enough as is and they firmly established Belair as the top contender once more by having her win an elimination match, defeating Carmella, Zelina Vega, and Liv Morgan to cement herself as the number two in the division.
They also at least dropped a hint of Lynch going fully heel instead of occupying this tweener space.
We’ll just have to wait and see on this one.
The big question coming out of SummerSlam in regards to Roman Reigns and the Universal championship wasn’t so much if Brock Lesnar would come around — we can be reasonably certain we won’t see a lot of him on SmackDown — but where Paul Heyman fits into the story now and going forward. After all, he was Brock’s advocate before he left WWE following his defeat at the hands of Drew McIntyre back at WrestleMania 36. He only linked up with Reigns after.
To that end, I quite liked how it was played here.
Jimmy & Jey Uso were skeptical of Heyman, to the point of almost being openly hostile towards him. They wondered how it could have worked out the way it did and implanted enough doubt in his mind that he didn’t know how to act around Reigns himself.
But when “The Tribal Chief” arrived, he had none of the same qualms The Usos did. He seemed downright confused by how shook Heyman was. Later, when Heyman said their celebration was “a family affair only,” Reigns really drove it home.
“Paul, you are family.”
This was great because it laid the groundwork for something they can come back to later when the time is right. I say come back to it because it’s clear they’re gonna be moving in a different direction for the time being, because the Lesnar match isn’t happening just yet, even if that new direction only lasts a brief time.
Said new direction is going back to wrap up the loose end that was Finn Balor getting a shot at the Universal championship before John Cena stole it out from underneath him. Balor redeemed himself to some degree by acknowledging that that whole situation was bullshit and he plans on dealing with Cena down the road but for now, he wants Reigns and he wants him next week. He was going to wait until Extreme Rules for the PPV showcase but he doesn’t trust anybody anymore, so let’s do it ASAP.
That’s the kind of growth and progression, small as it may seem, that makes a babyface worth cheering for.
All the rest
- Edge and Seth Rollins both appeared on this show but only in the form of brief backstage pre-taped promos. Edge vowed to move on, back to chasing the title Rollins took him away from. Rollins, meanwhile, adopted a creepy tone with an unsettling smile to tell us he thinks maybe he needs to be more like Edge in pursuit of his goal of fighting back to the Universal title. How long until he’s pouring black gunk on Edge?
- I couldn’t even really tell you why I’m so amused by pretty much everything Baron Corbin has been doing of late but this story they’ve got him in has allowed him to become the best version of himself. He was entertaining as hell as the sad sack bum ass Baron Corbin and he’s equally entertaining as the new Happy Corbin who hit big in Las Vegas. It’s great because the bottom is going to fall out on him again and I, for one, can’t wait to see it happen.
- The Mysterio family is suffering through some turmoil, as Rey is thinking more about what’s best for his boy, Dominik, and set him up to fly solo. His first match was against Sami Zayn and when he fell short, he didn’t handle it very well. Dear old dad was unable to console him, and they’ve got a nice set up for Dom to break off into being a man of his own.
- Generally speaking, I tend to always prefer when singles champions focus on singles programs and stay away from the tag team division but I am fully willing to make an exception for Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick BOOGS, who somehow make for a deeply entertaining team that should absolutely be running both divisions.
- Naomi’s reintroduction to the SmackDown women’s division felt like a nice set up to give her an actual push as a weekly television character. Perhaps she’ll be getting an edge to her after getting good and pissed off over being disrespected so openly by Sonya Deville?
- It doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago that Cesaro had a brief flirtation with the main event scene. He was quickly cast out, disappeared from television, and is now back to try to help get Otis over, who WWE clearly sees something in but is also just as clearly hesitant to fully commit something to. We’ll see where it goes.
This was a solid follow up to a big show that did well to set up future programs.