After three straight hit-or-miss shows, this week’s edition of SmackDown Live showed once again (as pointed out last week) that structure matters. No Mercy suffered on Sunday from a progressively declining final hour and several questionable endings, but it was Monday Night Raw that truly seemed to forget what a main event was.
As fun as it was to watch Enzo Amore embrace his heel tendencies and get his comeuppance at the hand of Neville and the rest of the cruiserweight division, a lack of effective prep work throughout the show left it feeling fairly out of place as the main event segment. Meanwhile, SmackDown Live has once again managed to advance multiple storylines while running a single thread from the very beginning of the show all the way to the closing moments.
This is the feud that never ends
Unlike stale rivalries such as that between Bray Wyatt and Finn Balor, more than a decade of history and an abundance of chemistry makes the perpetual animosity between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn remain fresh at all times. Chants like “fight forever” get tossed at high-quality matches by excited crowds, but it seems to fit most well anytime we see these two cross paths. Kevin Owens kicked off the night with his usual high-quality microphone work and continued to berate Shane McMahon, who it quickly became clear was not in the arena.
Longtime rival and former friend Sami Zayn made his way to the ring and, against his own better judgment, tried to talk some sense into Owens. Sami did his best to appeal to Kevin’s love of his family to convince him that his recent actions, including headbutting Vince McMahon, represent a loss of control for the former Universal Champion. Kevin gave his usual rebuttal, listing off his own accomplishments while belittling Sami’s lack thereof, but Daniel Bryan was out before the two came to blows.
SmackDown’s General Manager made the night’s main event right then, a one on one clash between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn for the first time on SmackDown Live. By the time the main event arrived, it felt like something truly special to see these two in the ring again. What followed was a short, but excellent, clash between two top-level competitors who knows each other extremely well. When things started to deteriorate, it felt much like when Kevin Owens captured the NXT Championship from Sami back in 2015. Sami refused to quit, but after a vicious assault by Kevin Owens and a powerbomb onto the apron the referee was forced to stop the match in favor of Sami’s health and wellbeing.
With the match over, Owens continued his assault and was ready to put Sami on the shelf for the long term, but Shane McMahon finally arrived and made his way down the ramp to get some revenge. Owens threw Sami (while he had a steel chair nestled around his neck) into Shane McMahon. This gave Owens just enough time to escape through the crowd and live to fight another day. Despite being a prop in a bigger feud, this was the most important role Sami has played in a show in some time, and it continued to show that things will be extremely personal when Owens and Shane clash inside Hell in a Cell.
Did we really need to wait weeks for these moments?
Three key segments on this week’s episode served to progress their respective feuds well, but felt relatively late to the party. First off, Jinder Mahal set up in the ring and continued to do his now trademark terrible photo segment. Jinder makes some bad jokes, and he cues an odd reaction shot of Nakamura on the screen. This time, his final reaction shot started to move and turned out to actually be a live feed of Nakamura. The King of Strong Style made a grand entrance and, despite an attempt to use the numbers game from The Singh Brothers, proceeded to lay out the current WWE Champion with a devastating Kinshasa. It was a great progression but really would have been better placed at the end of the first segment where Jinder tried this schtick.
A bit later in the night, Rusev held a “Pride of Bulgaria Celebration” in honor of his lightning-quick victory against Randy Orton, including an appearance from the Mayor of Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Rusev’s hometown. The master of ceremonies was Aiden English, an appropriate choice considering his distraction helped Rusev pick up the win last week. It was a classic heel moment as Rusev bragged about a questionable victory and, unsurprisingly, Randy Orton eventually arrived and laid out both English and Rusev with an RKO (outta nowhere). Had we done this weeks ago when Rusev and Orton first feuded for no clear reason, it would’ve made a lot more sense.
Lastly, Dolph Ziggler finally did his entrance tease properly. In previous weeks, Dolph has been entering with his own music only to berate the crowd and come back out a second time emulating a legend’s entrance. It was always clear it was Ziggler and didn’t even mention Bobby Roode (who this was clearly building to). The crowd was bored, and no one truly cared. This week, they finally got it right. The gong hit on SmackDown Live, and myself along with the crowd were enthralled with the belief that The Undertaker had suddenly arrived.
As a cloaked figure wearing a trademark black cowboy hat made his way to the ring, it slowly became clear that Dolph Ziggler had tricked everyone with another fake entrance. The crowd seemed legitimately pissed and gave Dolph Ziggler some quick “you suck” chants. Ziggler continued to give his usual rundown about not getting recognition for his in-ring talent, and he was finally interrupted by Bobby Roode. A verbal altercation ended with a challenge for Hell in a Cell, but I can’t help wondering…why didn’t we get this weeks ago?
- If Sami Zayn doesn’t eventually win the WWE Championship from Kevin Owens at WrestleMania, WWE has wasted the greatest rivalry of this era.
- Charlotte Flair and Natalya will have a great match at Hell in a Cell, but even their combined in-ring prowess can’t cover up Natalya’s terrible mic work.
- There’s some cruel irony in giving Tye Dillinger a loss that ends with the count of ten, especially because it seems to have removed the “Perfect 10” from the US Title picture.
- The New Day and The Usos will officially clash inside Hell in a Cell, culminating this back-and-forth rivalry just like it should be.
- Another miscue between Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley this week likely will spell the end of The Hype Bros.
- The Fashion Files are back next week!
- Baron Corbin def. Tye Dillinger via countout
- The Usos def. The Hype Bros via pinfall
- Charlotte Flair def. Carmella via pinfall
- Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn via referee stoppage
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