Coming off of a very disappointing SummerSlam, it looked like both Raw and SmackDown Live were in tough spots. Both shows had failed to tell truly compelling stories at one of the biggest PPVs of the year, and all signs pointed to them struggling to find that momentum again. Well, just last night Monday Night Raw proved that it could immediately hit the reset button and offer plenty of interesting, fresh material. Thus, the question that lingered was whether or not SmackDown Live could do the same. Luckily, this week’s show lays any doubts to rest, delivering a solid show from top to bottom.
The past matters on SmackDown Live
What’s fascinating to look at is how both Raw and SmackDown Live approach their reboot after SummerSlam. While both shows seemed to be in the same boat as of Sunday night, this week’s episodes suggest that SmackDown Live was in better shape all along. What I mean is that this week’s Raw essentially had to reset everything (minus the Brock-Strowman feud) in order to right the ship. Fresh matchups, and completely moving on from past feuds, contributed to the success of the show.
In contrast to that approach, SmackDown Live doesn’t really hit that reset button at all. Instead, the Blue Brand builds off of SummerSlam‘s controversial and sometimes convoluted outcomes. Rather than ignore everything that happened they lean into the skid, using the underwhelming portions of Sunday’s card to find new ways forward for many feuds. And really, that’s exactly what you want when it comes to WWE’s brand of professional wrestling. This is a show that runs 52 weeks and year and is constantly changing. The ability to assess and examine your previous stories and move forward in new and exciting ways is integral to the product. It sounds simple, but more often than not WWE takes the amnesia approach, discarding past feuds in order to make the new ones work.
Can’t get enough of Styles vs. Owens
That focus on building stories based on recent events is evident as the show gets underway, with Styles out to celebrate his big United States Championship win. He doesn’t revel in the victory for long though, and that’s because AJ Styles is all about matches and performance. So, he instantly reinstates the Open Challenge. That’s an immediate shift in the story, but it isn’t long before Kevin Owens comes out demanding another match because Shane McMahon screwed him at SummerSlam.
While having Owens and Styles lock horns again has the potential for complacency, there’s value in continually upping the ante. So Styles agrees to the match, and in order for the stakes to be set a little higher, Owens gets to choose his own referee and, as Shane stipulates, this will be Owens’ last opportunity at the title. If he loses there’s no rematch, no more whining, and no more special guest referees. That adds a sense of urgency to the main event, and also provides a good storytelling device to fill out the show.
Sami Zayn, special guest referee?
That device is Kevin Owens looking for a ref. Initially, he goes to Sami Zayn, saying that while they’ve had their differences he’s the only guy he can trust. It’s sweet and endearing, but of course, Owens can’t stop there. He always goes one step too far, and this time he condescends to Zayn, and it costs him a ref. That then leads him to a willing Breezeango that he doesn’t want any part of before Baron Corbin steps up and takes the job. All he wants in return is the first shot at the title should Owens win. It’s simple, effective storytelling that does a lot more for these characters and this feud than some run-of-the-mill backstage interview.
And make no mistake, Owens and Styles are the beating heart of this show. There’s other good stuff going on—The Usos have been at the top of their game for a ridiculously long time—but it’s Owens and Styles keeping things lively. I mean, their segments open and close the show, and all the WWE Champion gets is a Kinshasa to the face. Argue all you want about whether Jinder’s reign “devalues” the WWE Championship, but there’s no argument to be made that other guys on the roster are being ignored in favour of the champ. SmackDown Live knows what their draw is, and they’re leaning on it hard.
Bobby Roode and Shelton Benjamin are in the house
Of course, much like Raw, SmackDown Live isn’t simply shifting its focus to accommodate for what happened at SummerSlam. It’s also introducing new talent to the roster and looking to ignite new feuds. For many, Bobby Roode making his SmackDown Live debut will be the highlight of the night, and understandably so. Roode’s done great character work down in NXT—I remain mostly indifferent to much of his in-ring work, and his NXT Championship matches haven’t done much for me—and he feels like a natural fit on the Blue show.
For me though, the most exciting addition is Shelton Benjamin. He’s promised as Chad Gable’s tag team partner, and his debut is set for next week. Benjamin is exactly the kind of dynamic talent that can play an important role throughout the roster. Want him to be the veteran tag partner for a young up-and-comer? Done. Want him to fill out a midcard feud? Done. Want him to join a Money In The Bank ladder match and compete as a true, believable contender for the briefcase? Done. Benjamin is versatile, and I can’t wait to see what SmackDown Live does with him.
As much as the injection of new talent is a welcome sight, the relative success of this week’s show is the promise represented by the talent already here. Carmella and Natalya are in an interesting spot, essentially feuding while also remaining aligned based on being heels. That adds a few wrinkles to the story of the lingering cash-in. Owens taking the loss in his final shot at the United States Championship should only enrage an already livid Owens, and that’s never a bad thing. Then there’s Nakamura, coming off his SummerSlam loss and instantly reasserting himself as the rightful contender to the WWE Championship.
SummerSlam may have been disappointing, but SmackDown Live is putting the pieces back together, and things are already starting to look up.
- You have to love Owens using Shane McMahon’s legitimate helicopter crash as a way to fuel his conspiracy theory that he got robbed at SummerSlam.
- So Dolph Ziggler is back, which begs the question: Dolph Ziggler was gone?
- The fact that the Singh Brothers announce Jinder Mahal’s arrival backstage as well is a nice touch. We should all have such loyal, passionate associates.
- Now we have an answer to the question, who can pull off wearing a RompHim? Turns out it’s Fandango and Tyler Breeze.
- It’s been a long four days, but guess what everyone? We’re finally out of Brooklyn and far away from that crowd.
Bobby Roode defeated Aiden English; The Usos defeated The Hype Bros; Shinsuke Nakamura defeated The Singh Brothers (2-on-1 Handicap match); Naomi and Becky Lynch defeated Natalya and Carmella; AJ Styles (c) defeated Kevin Owens (United States Championship match).
Who are you most excited to see appear on SmackDown Live? Let us know in the comments below!
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