When comparing how the two brands did at WrestleMania, it's pretty clear that Raw came out on top. SmackDown Live may have had the best match on the card in Charlotte vs. Asuka, but as a whole, Raw delivered bigger moments and fewer duds. I mean, the Blue brand had AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the WWE Championship as its marquee match, and yet it never really landed in the way it should have. It had a wonderful opportunity to crown the runaway babyface train that is Rusev Day, and yet it didn't. The Usos and New Day had the chance to reignite the rivalry that tore up 2017, and yet a semi-squash from the Bludgeon Brothers was the best that SmackDown Live could muster.
Small moments carried the weight of promise, like Shinsuke Nakamura forgoing the "mutual respect" angle and just hitting AJ Styles below the belt. The Bludgeon Brothers snagging the tag team titles, despite the lackluster 'Mania match, was a promising development for a division that needed to get away from the constant (though iconic) bouts between the Usos and New Day. Asuka's streak coming to an end was the most significant story coming out of 'Mania, and with any luck it'd free her up to tell more varied, interesting stories. In other words, SmackDown Live still had a lot going for it coming out of the weekend.
Paige as SmackDown's new GM
The SmackDown Live after WrestleMania doesn't have nearly as many massive surprises as Raw, so the show needs to follow a more traditional structure. That's actually a boon for the show, as it builds feuds and stories rather than just moments. The first surprise of the night is a welcome one, as Shane McMahon announces that Paige is the new GM of SmackDown Live. A familiar face and one of the best women on the mic, she's a fantastic choice for the role, and it's also just really heartening to see her career continue in this capacity. She immediately makes the most of her first moment as GM, booking Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles in the main event. She knows what the people want, even if the people in the crowd chanted for Rusev first. But hey, who can blame them? That dude rules.
How does this keep happening to Rusev?
Unfortunately, WWE doesn't love Rusev as much as the crowd does, and that leads to the one area where SmackDown Live just can't seem to right itself: the United States Championship scene. After winning the title at WrestleMania, Jinder Mahal needs an opponent for Backlash. So, we get a triple threat match between, you guessed it, Rusev, Bobby Roode, and Randy Orton to determine the challenger.
If you thought that this would be yet another opportunity for WWE to pull the trigger on Rusev, you'd be right, but that doesn't mean WWE is in agreement. Instead, after a brutal tease where Rusev gets the upper hand and looks like he's about to head to Backlash as the #1 contender, Randy Orton comes in and does his thing, sentencing us to even more weeks of Orton vs. Mahal. Those guys have been feuding forever, and there's apparently no end in sight. I don't even know what to say. It's just ridiculously stupid, repetitive, boring booking.
Carmella with a F-A-B-U-L-O-U-S cash-in
Briefly, it looks like the women's division is going to follow suit, with SmackDown running Naomi vs. Natalya just because they can. But things shift massively later on when Charlotte's in the ring thanking Asuka and the fans for a great WrestleMania weekend, only to be interrupted by The Iconic Duo of Billie Kay and Peyton Royce. They've been rumoured to be coming to SmackDown for some time now, and the debut they get is perfect. Not only do they lay a furious beat-down on the Queen, immediately making a statement, they also incidentally set the stage for Carmella to finally cash in her Money in the Bank briefcase. In one fell swoop the division has two new faces, a new champion, and a number of stories to tell. SmackDown's women's division has been stagnant for a long time, so here's hoping this is the rejuvenation it needs.
Daniel Bryan, AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura. Enough said.
Speaking of rejuvenation, how about SmackDown Live's main event scene? It wasn't all that long ago that Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal were doing exactly what they're doing now, except in the main event while holding the WWE Championship hostage. Now though? We've got Daniel Bryan in fine form, AJ Styles cementing his place at the top of the show, and an angry, sarcastic, motivated Shinsuke Nakamura lurking and unafraid to attack at will. I don't know if SmackDown Live is back to being great just yet, but just reading those names should give us all hope that we're in for a fantastic stretch from the Blue brand.
- SmackDown also has new #1 contenders for the tag team championships, as The Usos beat New Day in yet another stellar match. They literally can't wrestle a bad one.
- "You better get yourself out the way, Charles!" says Kofi to the ref as Big E executes a massive suplex.
- Randy Orton. Jinder Mahal. Again. Why?
- Nothing about Daniel Bryan wrestling on Sunday made me cringe, but taking that Kinshasa to the back of the head tonight did the trick.
The Usos defeated New Day (#1 contender match for the SmackDown Live Tag Team Championship); Naomi defeated Natalya; Carmella defeated Charlotte (c) (SmackDown Live Women's Championship match, Money in the Bank cash-in); Randy Orton defeated Bobby Roode and Rusev (#1 contender match for the United States Championship); Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles ended in a No Contest.