Coming out of Backlash on Sunday, there was very little for fans of WWE to see in a positive light. The show, the first of the new co-branded PPVs, was largely a dud. Seth Rollins and The Miz tore the house down in the opening match, but everything after that ran the gamut from middling to downright repulsive. Daniel Bryan's return to singles action was fine, but everything else fell flat. The United States Championship continued to be a black hole of storytelling, the tag team titles were nowhere in sight, and just as AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura's No DQ match was getting going, it ended in a No Contest via simultaneous kicks to the dick.
Is there a more apt metaphor for Raw and SmackDown Live right now though than two of the best wrestlers in the world being told to lay on the ground holding their junk while the referee counts to 10 and the crowd boos? That anticlimactic nature of it all is a perfect embodiment of these last few months of WWE programming, especially on SmackDown Live, where a brutal midcard scene and an Authority-laden main event have taken the Blue brand down some disappointing paths.
Money in the Bank qualifiers
Much like Raw, whose problems I laid out in last night's review, the issues here seem easy to diagnose. The show itself has been stuck focusing on the wrong superstars and stories, and even when it's allowed for something potentially exciting to emerge, like Styles vs. Nakamura, the results have been lukewarm. In the case of Styles and Nakamura, it's probably best to give WWE a pass. This is looking like a months-long feud, which means that a lot of their matches and interactions have to end in a way that requires further action. That doesn't make for compelling weekly television, but with any luck this is the start of something that will eventually ascend to another level. It's hard to argue against a lengthy Styles-Nakamura program, even if it's been hit or miss thus far.
This week's SmackDown Live doesn't bother to progress that main event feud, instead spending its time on Money in the Bank qualifying matches. So far, the matches have been lackluster, the inherent stakes apparently not enough to elevate what's been a dull week in WWE. That trend continues tonight, at least until the shocking main event. Before getting there though, there's two qualifying matches: Jeff Hardy vs. The Miz, and Charlotte vs. Peyton Royce.
The Miz and Charlotte advance
Both matches are good TV matches, in that they hit the right spots, get some significant time, and largely entertain. Peyton Royce looked a little slow against Charlotte, and Jeff Hardy's matches seem to mostly be the same these days, but they're fine for what they are. But isn't fine the problem here? Isn't WWE consistently aiming for something just passable the main cause of months of complacency? Perhaps that's why the main event result is such a surprise.
Still, that doesn't change the fact that so much of the night is dedicated to wrestling that feels inconsequential. It's important for Charlotte and The Miz—in a genuinely great finish to his match—to qualify for the Money in the Bank ladder match, but there's hardly anything in their segments that necessitate watching. You could just as easily read this recap, and the results at the bottom, and get everything you need to know. That kind of blasé character work is why SmackDown Live is struggling right now. The show's top stars aren't being given enough to creatively work with, and that means a rather stagnant show each and every week.
Rusev Day crushes the YES Movement
The rest of the night follows a pretty predictable pattern. Cesaro and Xavier Woods square off because there's no other way for tag teams to build a feud than by wrestling each other individually. SmackDown's mistreatment of Becky Lynch continues as she loses to Mandy Rose, and I should end the sentence there before this becomes rage manifesting as a flurry of nonsensical consonants and vowels. There's a strange Bludgeon Brothers video about toys, and a number of selfie promos from people who want to qualify for the Money in the Bank ladder match, because WWE loves to tell more than show.
With all of that said, the main event is genuinely compelling. Not only does Daniel Bryan wrestle an incredibly energetic, hard-hitting match against Rusev, he loses in the process. Let's lay this out in no uncertain terms: Rusev gets a clean win over Daniel Bryan and advances to the Money in the Bank ladder match. It's a result that's the very definition of conflicted feelings, as Rusev certainly deserves the spot and the win, and yet it comes against the most over, powerful, dynamic babyface SmackDown Live has.
Once the shock wears off though, this feels like a welcome swerve. As I said, Rusev deserves the spot, and he'll be a good fit alongside the other ladder match participants, and the promise of him winning will surely get the PPV crowd fired up. More than that though, this gives Daniel Bryan some adversity to work against, forcing him to work harder to get back to the top, and in the meantime the Miz can use any losses as fuel for their impending feud. This is a complacent, predictable show, so a surprise ending is a welcome sight.
- Paige is still finding her groove on the mic as a GM, but I love her calling the finish to Styles-Nakamura at Backlash a "low blow confrontation."
- For the record: waffles > pancakes. Sorry, New Day.
- Mandy Rose fired up WWE 2k18 and chose the Mike and Maria Kanellis entrance package, but with worse music.
- Love the image of Woods bleeding from the mouth, blood running down his arm, at the end of his match with Cesaro.
The Miz defeated Jeff Hardy (Money in the Bank qualifier); Charlotte defeated Peyton Royce (Money in the Bank qualifier); Cesaro defeated Xavier Woods; Mandy Rose defeated Becky Lynch; Rusev defeated Daniel Bryan (Money in the Bank qualifier).