It must be a nightmare living in Vince McMahon’s head. Constantly straddling the line between genius and insanity, all the while dodging the bees that yell angrily into the little void in his mind. That area of his brain that demands to know why his company isn’t an even greater success.
“Why can’t the Kabuki Warriors speak English?” “Why is Finn Bálor so small?” “Dammit Trips, your NXT people aren’t connecting with the fans!” Be quiet, bees!
Well, it seems that on SmackDown Live, those bees finally won.
Earlier this week, it was announced that Big E and Xavier Woods would be taking on the dream team of Elias and Drew McIntyre. I could live with that – it’s nothing particularly inspiring, but a solid entry-level contest nevertheless.
Just a few hours before the show, however, WWE shared the news that the match had been expanded and changed. A full compliment of The New Day would instead square off against The O.C., comprising AJ Styles, Gallows and Anderson. Now, that’s an idea I could get behind! Suddenly SmackDown had a main event calibre matchup.
But then, the buzzing set in. Shortly after the first adjustment was announced, WWE again changed the match. With reports that Vince Mcmahon had called for a full rewrite of the show just hours before air, the featured match now became Kofi Kingston versus AJ Styles.
What in the Los Conquistadores is going on?
It’s clear that WWE no longer has a long-term vision. The transition is complete. The days of Jim Ross, Jim Cornette and Vince Russo sitting poolside at Vince McMahon’s stately home, hashing out a general outline of what lay in store for each wrestler for the next six months, is long gone. We’re not looking six months down the line, three months down the line, or even to next week.
WWE has become so wholly consumed by a week-to-week booking model that it’s been blinded to all else. Every show is written and rewritten to the complete exclusion of all others. It’s why Alexa Bliss’ character is so inconsistent, it’s why Natalya mysteriously gets elevated into the title fold without warning only to be forgotten shortly after, and it’s why a SmackDown main event can change three times in one week.
The bees have been freed. Let’s get to the review.
The Best of SmackDown Live
Shane is Karmically Centred
SmackDown Live kicked off with a pre-recorded clip of Shane McMahon announcing that he had found his happy place. He had spoken to his life coach, who encouraged him to find peace. Shane had set aside his anger and was prepared for his SummerSlam encounter with Kevin Owens.
This was, broadly speaking, fine.
— WWE (@WWE) July 31, 2019
The live broadcast then commenced with KO making his way to the ring. The former Universal Champion revealed – with no small amount of glee – that Shane was not in the arena last night. And that, at next weekend’s pay-per-view, KO would inflict an unimaginable beating on the boss’ son.
Apparently talk of violence acts as a lure to Drew McIntyre. It’s like chum for sharks. Because Owens was soon jumped by McIntyre, who grabbed a mic to announce that he had been booked to face KO. And that match would be… later in the evening.
Just kidding, it was next.
Kevin Owens is Rolling
The ensuing brawl between Kevin Owens and Drew McIntyre was relatively enthralling. In fact the lengthy contest, which ran through two commercial breaks, was so good that it overcame the infuriatingly juvenile commentary. Corey Graves and Byron Saxton spent the majority of the match ignoring the action in favour of bickering about whether Shane McMahon was vindicated in his actions in recent weeks.
Regardless of the announcers’ distraction though, the match itself was pretty exciting. It was a predictably hard-hitting affair, with both men getting in some big power moves, including sentons, headbutts and pop-up powerbombs.
Ultimately though, Kevin Owens emerged victorious after a token Stunner in the middle of the ring, conquering Shane’s biggest henchman on his way to SummerSlam.
The Career-Altering Announcement
In introducing Daniel Bryan, Kayla Braxton informed us that the ‘Planet’s Champion’ had specifically requested this platform to make his “career-altering announcement”. Much as he did two weeks ago however, Bryan simply locked his jaw, glared at Braxton and let out a few agitated breaths. No words. No announcement. Nothing.
— WWE (@WWE) July 31, 2019
Ordinarily I would likely slam this sort of unfulfilled moment, considering that it’s been built up over three weeks. But, much as I did on the last occasion, I’m willing to give Bryan the benefit of the doubt here. Whatever he’s got in store for us is likely to deliver. The rest is just mounting anticipation.
The King’s Court
Jerry Lawler was in Memphis to bask in a few cheap hometown pops and interview a returning Trish Stratus. Who looks better at 43 than I have my entire life.
They engaged in some inane chit-chat about Instagram, Raw Reunion and Kelly Kelly. Just as my mind started to drift towards the age-defying miracles of yoga though, talk shifted to whether Stratus had ever entertained the idea of having one more match. (Conveniently ignoring her “one more match” at Evolution last year.)
And then Charlotte Flair’s music hit! I mean who – other than literally everyone – could’ve seen this coming?
But predictable doesn’t mean bad. And in this case, it actually means very, very good.
Charlotte set about antagonising the seven-time Women’s Champ, questioning whether she still had “it”. Trish responded by calling Flair a nasty word, reminded her who the true trailblazers in the women’s division were… and accepted Charlotte’s SummerSlam challenge.
I’m immediately more invested in this than the SmackDown Women’s Title picture.
We get another one! Much like the crowd in Memphis, my spirits were immediately jolted by the sound of the Firefly Funhouse theme. It’s just so uplifting. Like injecting Red Bull directly into your heart. (Please don’t do that.)
This edition saw Rambling Rabbit greet us, before immediately sharing his super fandom of Finn Bálor. The cheery puppet then turned fearful however, as he cautioned the Irishman about ‘The Fiend’. The problem, you see, is that we don’t really understand what happens in the Funhouse.
Just then, a raging Bray Wyatt appeared to send Rambling Rabbit fleeing. Wyatt quickly composed himself, let out several belly laughs, before ominously demanding that we “let him in“.
This marked the second time that Rabbit had attempted to reveal the true nature of the Funhouse, only to be stifled by Bray. It’s the kind of weird, twisted mystery that I desperately need to find the answer to. Another home run for what has easily been the best character work all year.
“The Fiend is Here!”
A relatively entertaining five-minute match between Dolph Ziggler and Finn Bálor was then interrupted by ‘The Fiend’. Once again, the lights in the arena were systematically extinguished, leaving the entire building in darkness.
Strobe lighting then illuminated ‘The Fiend’ in the crowd, while screeching sound effects rang out. It was truly unsettling. This was enough to distract Finn Bálor (as it would be any regular human), allowing Dolph Ziggler to land the superkick and claim the win.
This had nothing to do with either of the men in the ring and was all about establishing Bray Wyatt as this omnipresent, nightmarish figure. And by that metric, it worked.
The Intercontinental Champion has a Challenger
Nakamura and Ali had a lightning quick match, which closely mirrored their encounter at WWE Smackville over the weekend.
It was fast-paced, athletic and riddled with counters. Both men attempted several finishers, on each occasion being thwarted by a quick-thinking opponent. Eventually Ali, avoiding the Kinshasa for the umpteenth time, managed to reverse the move into a devastating rollup for the pinfall.
This could very well lead to a match at SummerSlam with Nakamura’s Intercontinental Championship on the line. And I would be very much for it.
— ALI / Adeel Alam (@AliWWE) July 31, 2019
An Uncertain Condition
The commentary team shared the news that WWE’s digital team (surely there’s someone with more seniority?) had reached out to Seth Rollins to get an update on his condition following Brock Lesnar’s attack on Monday.
Seth reportedly requested that his medical status be kept confidential. I like the ambiguity here. Keep it under wraps until SummerSlam.
UPDATE: WWE Digital reached out to @WWERollins for an update on his medical condition, but he has requested WWE not release any information regarding his medical condition following Monday night’s attack from @BrockLesnar. https://t.co/ILAoRWiZ7u
— WWE (@WWE) July 30, 2019
The Worst of SmackDown Live
Where’s The Match?
On last week’s show, much fun was had at the expense of Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, who couldn’t seem to agree on whether they had a tag title match scheduled for this week or a match to determine whether they were deserving of a tag title match.
Whatever it was, however, it didn’t happen. The only match actively peddled during last week’s show, the only marketed contest, didn’t take place. It was scratched without so much as an on-screen acknowledgement, and that’s just plain frustrating.
Shawn Michaels’ Human Shield
Why is everyone so appalled by Dolph Ziggler’s treatment of Shawn Michaels? All he did was superkick the legendary figure in the middle of the ring. Braun Strowman threw Sami Zayn in a trash compactor. Roman Reigns rammed an ambulance. Where is the outrage over those incidents?
Instead we find ourselves in a world where a stream of valiant defenders come to the aid of the NXT mentor. Seth Rollins did so on Monday, and last night it was Finn Bálor’s turn to ride in on a white horse. I just don’t get it.
— WWE (@WWE) July 31, 2019
What is does though is give Ziggler a platform to paint himself as an outsider, a maligned martyr fighting off the company’s handpicked defenders. He’s fighting not just WWE’s best, but the institution itself.
I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying it. I don’t care about Ziggler, I don’t care about Michaels’ heroes and I have little interest in the match between Dolph and The Miz.
Bayley located Ember Moon backstage to reveal that the pair would be tagging last night. The ‘Hugger’ hadn’t forgotten about Moon attacking her last week, but she was apparently willing to set that aside for some meaningless tag bout on SmackDown Live. How big, yet utterly insincere, of her.
Once again, WWE’s inconsistent continuity has rendered an entire feud moot. The simple truth is that if Bayley doesn’t care about being attacked last week, then why should we?
It didn’t help that Ember just stood there silently, mouth uncomfortably agape, like some sort of constipated mime. Get a character already!
UP NEXT: #SummerSlam opponents become teammates when @WWEEmberMoon joins forces with #SDLive #WomensChampion @itsBayleyWWE against best friends @AlexaBliss_WWE & @NikkiCrossWWE! pic.twitter.com/WM8A8OOuZC
— WWE (@WWE) July 31, 2019
The match itself – against Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross – was surprisingly good. It went a decent length, giving everyone involved an opportunity to showcase their considerable abilities.
But then, true to form, it all ended on a dud. Ember hit an Eclipse on Cross, opening herself up to Alexa Bliss, who sent her shoulder first into the ring post. The ‘Goddess’ then landed a Twisted Bliss on Moon for the pin. No interference, no disfunction, the Number One Contender to the SmackDown Women’s Championship just got straight-up pinned.
— WWE (@WWE) July 31, 2019
Then, in the post match commiserations, Bayley suckered Moon into the Bayley-to-Belly. After which she plastered on a thin-lipped smiled like a psychopath.
So everyone’s a dork except Ember – she’s a dork and a chump. This segment failed miserably.
Aleister is Back in Black
I thought a win over Cesaro had allowed Aleister Black to graduate from his little cupboard under the stairs… but nope!
— WWE (@WWE) July 31, 2019
He was back in his little dark room this week, speaking in riddles, waiting for someone to come knocking.
(A few segments later, Sami Zayn challenged the Dutchman to a match at SummerSlam. My feelings towards this segment remain unwavering.)
Champion vs. Champion
This may sound like a strange complaint, but I have no idea why we got Kofi Kingston vs. AJ Styles. The WWE Champion vs. the United States Champion. With both of their crews around ringside.
It just seemed like an unnecessary attraction. With both guys ideally needing a win heading into their SummerSlam title defences, it didn’t make sense to pit them against each other and risk one of the champions losing momentum.
— WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) July 31, 2019
Predictably, it wasn’t long before both men’s squads started attacking one another and the entire match devolved into a rush to the finish. That finish came when Styles attempted a Phenomenal Forearm only to spring head-first into an awesome-looking Trouble in Paradise.
But why have AJ lose in this meaningless, easily avoidable schmoz? Of course it could’ve been worse – they could’ve been made to team up against The Bar. But this still wasn’t the best use of either man.
A Near Catastrophe
With two minutes left in the broadcast, attention shifted to Roman Reigns, who was expected to announce his SummerSlam opponent. Unfortunately we never got to hear from the ‘Big Dog’, for as he made his way towards Kayla Braxton in the backstage area, an avalanche of scaffolding and sound equipment rained down on him.
Far from the undoubtedly terrifying tone producers were likely going for though, this entire scene felt decidedly cartoonish. Capped off by some truly abysmal acting from a concerned Kayla Braxton. Fortunately however, Reigns was left unscathed – albeit visibly shaken – from the incident and he walked away without word.
So… I guess Roman’s SummerSlam opponent is Wile E. Coyote? There’s a reference for all you kids out there!
Overall Rating for the Show (From best to worst: SmackDamn, SmackTastic, Smack Bang in the Middle, SmackDowner and A Smack in the Face)
SmackDown this week was a bizarre combination of good wrestling and confounding booking. Every segment had a question attached to it, such as why has Roman Reigns been cast in the Looney Tunes? Why did Kofi and Styles have a match, when they’re involved in entirely separate narrative arcs? And what happened to Fire & Desire’s match with The IIconics?
Of course, none of this was enough to entirely undermine the largely solid wrestling on display. Each of Owens & McIntyre, Ali & Nakamura and Kingston & Styles put on an entertaining showing. Even more so, many of the new matches announced for SummerSlam should send hearts a-fluttering.
While eyebrows may be raised at the prospect of Black vs Zayn, given the latter’s recent downward trajectory, there’s legitimate excitement around the return of Trish Stratus and Ali vs. Nakamura (should that be made official).
But nothing compared to Firefly Funhouse and the reemergence of ‘The Fiend’. Bray Wyatt remains head-and-shoulders above everything else on SmackDown at the moment, and it’s hard to comprehend that his genius exists on the same show that routinely keeps Aleister Black locked in a cupboard.
With all that said, SmackDown was a largely solid – if unspectacular – affair. With little in the way of memorable moments, it’s hard to call the show an out-and-out success. For that reason, SmackDown Live was a high Smack Bang in the Middle.