Just as it was looking like Monday Night Raw was going to run away with the week’s best go-home show, here comes SmackDown Live delivering the goods. Not only was there some good wrestling, there was also another killer Fashion Peaks segment, and a deepening of a few feuds that adds some stakes to the matches coming up on Sunday. Oh, and there’s also a cash-in from Baron Corbin to end the night, so yeah, SmackDown Live isn’t pulling any punches this week. The result? The very rare instance where WWE delivers two pretty good go-home shows. Call it a miracle.
Feel The Glow
Let’s start with the Women’s division tonight, which, not unlike its Raw counterpart, has been struggling to find a story to tell leading into SummerSlam. Over on Raw, Bayley was shot to the title picture after looking like a chump for weeks, only to have Sasha step up after an injury and gain that spot. Here on SmackDown Live, Naomi and Natalya aren’t exactly feuding; rather, they’re just scheduled for a PPV match.
There’s no real heat to what’s going down between them, which is a shame because there’s some potential in the angle of Natalya seeing Naomi’s more modern take on the role of a Women’s champion, coupled with her design choices, as a sign of disrespect. But nobody here is leaning on that angle hard enough. That said, it’s good to see WWE trying to work some more women into the story, like Becky and Carmella, and there’s a few inspired moments of character psychology tonight. For instance, I love that Naomi comes out for commentary just as the match is about to start. It’s a power move from the champ, one that sees her trying to get in Natalya’s head.
Where is Lana headed?
Moving on to Lana, it’s hard to really understand just what’s going on with her. They moved her away from her greatest strength, being a manager, while at the same time making sure she didn’t interact with the man she has incredible chemistry with in Rusev. With the failed wrestling experiment seemingly in the past, Lana is now hoping to help Tamina get angrier and nastier so that she can “crush” her competition. So now she’s a manager for a new Rusev, but in this case it’s Tamina, who has all the dynamism and charisma of the laptop I’m typing this on. Just pull the plug now and put Rusev and Lana back together. It’s better for both of them.
Randy Orton: fighter of foreigners forever
Speaking of Rusev, he absolutely destroys Chad Gable tonight, making an example of him before eating an RKO from Randy Orton, returning the favour from last week. While Naomi and Natalya’s match at SummerSlam hasn’t had a layered build, I’m still excited to see the in-ring work. When it comes to Rusev and Orton though, I couldn’t be less enthused. WWE has just transitioned Orton from one nationalistic storyline to another, and I can’t locate any meaningful direction for either character. What’s the endgame here? Another Rusev loss? Rusev wins and that’s important because…why? Sure, this is a rather meaningless midcard match on a stacked PPV, but with the talent involved, there should be some intrigue to the story.
What’s interesting is that while Orton-Rusev could use a little more in terms of storytelling, there’s the sense that SmackDown Live is overdoing it with Owens and Styles. All of this back and forth about whether or not Shane McMahon can call a fair match only convolutes a story that’s working just fine being about two guys who really want the U.S. title. Owens and Styles are the main event. They know it and the crowd knows it, so there’s no need to add all of this drama. We’re all tuning in to see those guys.
But here’s SmackDown Live going through the motions, having Owens accidentally superkick Shane after Styles inadvertently kicked him last week. Nobody benefits from this, and it doesn’t add anything to the match on Sunday. Going into a PPV match feeling like anything can happen is a good thing, but not when that “anything” is some sort of wackiness that threatens to ruin a match between two of the company’s best talents.
Still, despite the fact that SmackDown Live has stumbled along the way, their portion of SummerSlam is shaping up nicely. Owens and Styles are an easy sell, recovering nicely after an atrocious match at Battleground; the threat of a Carmella cash-in is elevating the feud between Naomi and Natalya; and then there’s Jinder Mahal, who keeps squeaking out wins, enough so that WWE’s history of never pushing the next big guy starts to challenge your presumptions about the outcome of Sunday’s SmackDown Live main event.
Baron Corbin plays himself
One big presumption stands out though: just about everyone was predicting that Corbin was going to cash in his Money In The Bank briefcase and steal the WWE Championship from Nakamura. Apparently, that’s not even close to the plan, because Corbin cashes in this week after Cena hits Mahal with an AA off the middle rope, and ends up losing on a rollup when he decides to punch Cena in the face first.
Look, I tend not to get too ahead of myself when reacting to all things WWE. When reviewing these shows, I try to come at them from a storytelling and narrative perspective because WWE is a strange beast; it’s part sport, part fictional drama, and the grueling schedule of weekly shows means that things are always changing. So, did Corbin get screwed out of a big moment? Maybe. But from a character standpoint, having him lose on a cash-in is certainly interesting.
After all, Corbin got real cocky with that briefcase, and it came back to bite him in the ass. He didn’t wait until SummerSlam. Instead, his ego and entitlement got the best of him. He jumped at an opportunity that he hadn’t planned for rather than biding his time, and then he made the fatal error of worrying too much about Cena, hitting him with the briefcase and punching him once the match starts, never once focusing on Mahal. He underestimated Mahal while overestimating just how easy it would be to snag the title. Now, he’s angry and determined. Sounds like a Corbin I can get behind, and one who’s likely coming into Sunday with the purpose of doing great harm to John Cena. Bring on SummerSlam.
- Daniel Bryan is absolutely nailing being the Cool Dad DM. His interaction with The Usos tonight had me in stitches. I’ve said it a hundred times before, but I’ll say it again: it’s sad that he’s not in the ring anymore, but I am so grateful that we still get to see him on TV every week.
- “It wouldn’t be the biggest party of the summer without Randy Orton!” Are you sure about that, Tom Phillips?
- As always, the RKO is a lot more over than Orton himself is.
- The whole Styles-Owens-Shane segment derails instantly, as Shane says there’s no need for an apology. He’s basically saying “everything’s good,” which is like saying “no” during an improv sketch. Where is Styles supposed to go from there to build the tension?
- I will watch New Day and The Usos wrestle each and every week for however long WWE wants me too. Their chemistry is off the charts.
- Do you think The Ascension ever thought they’d be yelling “WE LIVE A GLUTEN FREE LIFESTYLE!” at Fandango and Tyler Breeze in a wig?
Natalya defeated Becky Lynch; Rusev vs. Chad Gable ended in a double countout when Rusev used Gable’s body to rearrange the seating behind the announce table; The Usos defeated New Day; John Cena defeated Jinder Mahal via DQ; Jinder Mahal (c) defeated Baron Corbin (WWE Championship match after a cash-in)…or, Baron Corbin defeated himself.
What did you think of the final episode of SmackDown Live before SummerSlam? What do you think of Corbin’s cash-in attempt? Let us know in the comments below!
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