More often than not, SmackDown Live has the upper hand when it comes to WWE’s main roster shows each and every week. The two-hour runtime allows for more condensed, focused storytelling, and that usually leads to some pretty compelling places. But coming off of a bad showing at SummerSlam, and a week where John Cena and Roman Reigns fought to be the centre of attention, could SmackDown Live deliver something memorable and start moving toward its next PPV? The answer, as has been the case lately, is both yes and no.
Who told Orton and Mahal to “fight forever”?
The main issue with SmackDown Live right now is that WWE’s most prestigious title is stuck as a meaningless piece of hardware in a feud driven mostly by “USA” chants and a bevy of promos that barely veil the racist undertones driving the story forward. The Blue Brand has done a great job of making the United States Championship matter, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that the WWE Championship is seemingly a title that nobody really wants.
This is largely a problem with character work and building feuds. There are ways to make Jinder Mahal’s reign as champ work, but the current complacency certainly isn’t it. He’s out here every single week cutting the exact same promo, leading to the exact same confrontations with Randy Orton or, more recently, Shinsuke Nakamura. There’s no sense of shifting motivations or changing attitudes; everything is operating on one single speed, and that robs the feud of any ebbs and flows.
You need those ebbs and flows to really make your high spots land, and right now there’s nothing but lows. Again, this week features a similar formula for the main event scene: Jinder comes out and complains that the fans don’t respect him, someone confronts him over that, and then a tag team match is scheduled in order to sort it all out. RKO, rinse, and repeat, every single week. There’s so much opportunity here to tell more interesting stories—the lone moment of inspiration comes when Rusev refuses to pal around with Jinder and says he’s only on SmackDown Live so that he can become a WWE Champion—and yet the feuds are stuck in neutral. It feels like we’ve been doing Jinder vs. Orton forever, and it’s dragging down the show as a whole each and every week.
New Day and The Usos risk getting stale
Similarly, SmackDown Live is flirting with complacency when it comes to The Usos and New Day. There’s no reason to doubt that both teams will put on another classic when the rematch happens, but I remain unconvinced that an impending stipulation is enough to really keep things interesting. At some point the show is going to have to invest in other tag teams in order to flesh out the division and make it feel more competitive.
Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin get off to a good start tonight against The Ascension, but one team waiting in the wings isn’t enough. We need to see more of the Hype Bros, Ascension, or even the team of Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger from a few weeks ago. Plus, you have Breezeango sitting right there! There’s no reason they can’t pull double duty on Fashion Files and in the ring. Those guys are super over, and they deserve the in-ring time to put some good work together. Not only would it take the pressure off New Day and The Usos leading into every PPV, it’d benefit the division as a whole. There’s so much talent just waiting to be unleashed.
Not even AJ Styles can save this week’s show
Outside of the focus on the tag team division and the main event scene, this is a bit of a barebones SmackDown Live. Sure, there’s the reinstatement of the United States Open Challenge, and there’s Lana getting back to being a manager, and there’s Bobby Roode doing his Glorious thing, but none of it amounts to much. In fact, it feels like SmackDown Live has a lot of time to kill before its next PPV, so it’s just kind of keeping a steady pace until crunch time.
There’s stuff to love within the segments that fill out the night. Kevin Owens is always a delight, and his furious rant at Shane McMahon, followed by his impromptu refereeing of Sami Zayn’s match, is the best bit of the night. And there’s certainly a lot of promise in the idea that Baron Corbin can’t time any of his opportunities right, getting screwed on both his Money In The Bank cash-in and tonight’s Open Challenge. Both Owens and Corbin seem primed for much more nastiness in the future, and that’s a good thing, but so much else is stuck in a rut.
I mean, where is Sami Zayn going? And why is Ziggler out here doing the exact same type of rebranding he’s always done? Why is WWE trying to make Tamina seem intimidating when she has all the striking power and menacing presence of an injured butterfly? These questions, among many others, suggest that SmackDown Live is in a strange spot right now, trying to reset and ignite certain feuds but failing to really capture much magic. There’s still plenty of time for the show to get its act together before the next PPV, but for now, we’re stuck with a rather middling product.
- So that’s what Aiden English’s music sounds like, huh?
- It’s occurring to me that James Ellsworth basically took Enzo Amore’s spot as Carmella’s mouthpiece, and now the Certified G is stuck on 205 Live. Seriously, a heel Enzo as Carmella’s annoying hypeman would’ve been a great idea before Ellsworth’s rise.
- I’m all in on the Kevin Owens who just wants anarchy and chaos on SmackDown Live.
- “I’m going to make you the Baron Corbin of the Women’s division.”
- So good to see that Gable and Benjamin actually have great entrance music.
- Life is better when the Fashion Files is in it. “I know what this is. It’s a title.” “No, it’s a belt.”
- Orton RKOing Nakamura to end the show is a nice touch, adding some tension to their #1 Contender match scheduled for next week.
Shelton Benjamin and Chad Gable defeated The Ascension; AJ Styles (c) defeated Tye Dillinger (United States Championship Open Challenge); Bobby Roode defeated Mike Kanellis; Aiden English defeated Sami Zayn; The Usos defeated New Day; Tamina defeated Tina Stock; Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Rusev and Jinder Mahal.
What did you think of this week’s episode of SmackDown Live? Let us know in the comments below!
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