If Monday Night Raw did very little to ease WWE in the transition from an outright awful Crown Jewel card on Friday to the road to Survivor Series in less than two weeks, luckily wrestling fans can still count on Tuesday night’s to cure their woes.
SmackDown Live, the undisputed A-show since the superstar shakeup following WrestleMania in April, somehow made WWE’s controversial trip to Saudi Arabia feel like the distant past with two hours of sports entertainment that was nothing short of fresh, cohesive and enthralling television. The challenge of putting together Survivor Series teams in SmackDown’s quest to take down Raw dominated the storylines in a way that never felt forced or a waste of time. Most importantly, the show allowed the in-ring product to be the focus and gave the matches actual meaning, which amped up the quality and intensity.
It continues to be mind-boggling how different — for all the wrong reasons — the two main roster shows often are. Yet for a pair of tape-delayed shows from the United Kingdom, the difference in quality and enjoyment from one to the other was staggering.
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Co-captains set to lead the blue brand charge
General manager Paige opened the show by welcoming “best in the world” Shane McMahon for a photo with his trophy from winning the World Cup tournament at Crown Jewel. The SmackDown commissioner revealed he was acting on instinct in Saudi Arabia, and only did it to give his brand an edge entering Survivor Series. The duo then ran down Brock Lesnar vs. AJ Styles, Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch, Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and AOP vs. The Bar as matches that would join the traditional elimination tag team matches between brands on the Nov. 18 pay-per-view card.
McMahon then named Daniel Bryan as captain of the SmackDown men’s team. The Miz angrily limped out to protest and claim that his two victories in the World Cup should make him captain instead. McMahon agreed, and then named both to the position. Later on backstage, McMahon broke up an argument between Miz and Bryan by saying, “I need a team to bring this home; a team with urgency. I want people to feel uncomfortable. What you do is bring out the best in each other, and that’s what I’m counting on.” McMahon gave them until the end of the night to pick their five-man team, and both captains convinced McMahon to be their first pick because “no one else has more on the line.”
Rey Mysterio def. Andrade Almas via pinfall: Bryan’s pick of Mysterio was incumbent upon him impressing Miz with his performance. He did just that in a match that felt nothing short of special from the beginning. At 43, Mysterio continues to look half his age with a series of high spots. After kicking out of Almas’ double knees at two, Mysterio landed a 619 and a springboard splash for the win. Randy Orton ran in to lay Mysterio out with an RKO, likely signaling the start of a new feud. After denying Bryan’s accusation that he sent Orton out to sabotage, The Miz admitted that Mysterio had been impressive enough to make the team.
Samoa Joe def. Jeff Hardy via submission: For the final spot on the SmackDown team, Bryan chose Hardy and Miz chose Joe, with both captains agreeing the winner of the main event would get the nod. The unlikely friendship shown between Miz and Bryan quickly began to unravel as both talked trash on commentary while cheering for their respective pick. Miz accused Bryan of “not being up to bar” since his return from retirement, and Bryan countered by saying Miz is not a leader. The fun match came to a close when Hardy’s swanton bomb landed on Joe’s knees before a Coquina Clutch produced a quick tap. Afterwards, Bryan attacked after Joe celebrated in his face. Bryan applied his Yes Lock on Joe inside the ring until Miz angrily pulled him off. McMahon came running in from behind and Bryan hit him with a judo toss. With the crowd cheering him on, Bryan angrily stormed off to close the show.
Serving as the backbone to the show, the Bryan-Miz storyline succeeded in making the process of picking a team for Survivor Series feel important. Not only were the matches top notch for television, the interplay between captains proved enthralling as they were initially surprised by their cohesion only to see things predictably blow up. Consider this a fun way to extend their overall story on the road to what should be a final blow off at WrestleMania 35. Grade: A-
Becky Lynch responds with epic promo
The SmackDown women’s champion began her retort to Ronda Rousey’s “baddest bitch on the planet” rant from the night before by saying, “Who the hell are you to tell the champ anything?” Lynch said that Rousey wasn’t a true champion because she hasn’t been tested yet. “Winning comes so easy to you that when you finally meet ‘The Man’ at Survivor Series, your titanium body will be overcome by your weak mind.” Lynch, who called herself “the most relentless person you have ever met,” then took issue with Rousey’s mocking of her journey to get here before closing with her own mic-drop moment. “I don’t care if you are the baddest bitch on the planet because I am going to make you mine,” Lynch closed with.
Lynch’s swagger and delivery have somehow only gotten better in the months since her initial heel turn at SummerSlam. It wouldn’t be hyperbole to suggest that Lynch is not only the best thing going in WWE right now but arguably the most over any female has been in this era. She’s simply a natural at this cocky heel character, and has raised her promo game considerably. This whole “I’m the man” shtick, something which could’ve failed miserably in different hands, has been intoxicatingly great. Grade: A+
What else happened on SmackDown?
- The Usos def. The New Day via pinfall: With the captainship on the line for SmackDown’s Survivor Series tag team squad and The Bar watching backstage on a monitor, this one felt very much like a pay-per-view match. Big spots and dramatic near falls quickly became the norm in one of the better free TV matches this calendar year. The finish came when Jimmy Uso reversed Kofi Kingston into a powerbomb off the second rope. He then came right back with a splash from the opposite top rope for the 1-2-3. After the match, The Usos named The New Day as their first pick for the team and both teams shook hands and embraced.
- Becky Lynch def. Nikki Cross via submission: The champion’s open challenge to the locker room was met by Cross, who made her SmackDown debut by reuniting with Sanity and showcasing her rabid character. “I’ll play with you Becky,” Cross said. “Let’s play Becky! You want to play? Play with Nikki! Let’s play!” The match that followed was not only entertaining, but it put over Cross as a legitimate title contender on the main roster. Cross, who creatively trapped Lynch in the ring apron before beating her down and going on to score a handful of near falls, eventually succumbed to the Dis-Arm-Her in a fantastic match.
- Paige names SmackDown women’s team: The blue brand’s general manager cut right to the chase and announced Carmella, Naomi, Sonya Deville, Asuka and Charlotte Flair as the five-woman team. Flair, however, never came out after her music played, one week after she turned down Paige’s request to be team captain. Out came Mandy Rose instead, who wanted to know why tag team partner Deville was chosen over her. Rose went on to roast the other members of the team one by one until an insult related to Naomi’s husband Jimmy Uso caused Naomi to attack. Deville broke it up and held Rose back until her exit. Although Flair’s absence was surprisingly left unresolved, Rose was strong as an obnoxious heel.
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