Last night on Monday Night Raw, it looked like the Blue brand was selling off all of their dead weight. All of the superstars who’ve made SmackDown Live such a drag these last few months, with the exception of Randy Orton, made their way to the Red brand. Ziggler was gone, making a move on Raw with the help of Drew McIntyre. Jinder Mahal was brought in by Kurt Angle, and immediately lost his United States Championship to Jeff Hardy. Bobby Roode found himself trying to be a main-eventer, once again standing next to four guys who outshine him at every turn. Baron Corbin got a video package, and now the whole boring United States Championship scene is on Raw. In one fell swoop it looked like SmackDown Live had rid itself of its least compelling superstars, and what were they getting in return? The Miz, arguably the most consistently entertaining presence on WWE TV these last few months, who's also got a lot of unfinished business with Daniel Bryan.
A whole lot of talent
SmackDown Live doesn't do nearly as well as Raw when it comes to using the Shakeup to set up interesting stories, but that might not really matter in the long run. Essentially, this might not be the most compelling episode of SmackDown Live, as it shares a lot of problems with recent episodes, but the Shakeup offers up a roster that's incredibly promising. The night sees the Blue brand add Asuka, The Miz, Sanity, Gallows and Anderson, The Bar, Absolution, Jeff Hardy, a returning Big Cass, plus Samoa Joe and Andrade Cien Almas! That's a massive influx of talent, especially in exchange for Corbin, Roode, and Ziggler.
Jeff Hardy returns to SmackDown
The first half of SmackDown Live doesn't really make good use of that new talent though. It's a sluggish show to start, similar in structure to what the brand has been doing for some time now. The opening segment involves AJ Styles talking about Shinsuke Nakamura, and how he's seen a new side of him. He calls Nakamura out, but it's Rusev who answers the call, but their match doesn't last long, as Aiden English gets involved, which in turn brings out Daniel Bryan for the save. It's all fine, but also predictable. This is the usual setup for a tag team main event, and the absence of Nakamura means he'll be lurking by the time we get there.
Jeff Hardy's debut on SmackDown Live is fun, but not much else. He wrestles Shelton Benjamin, giving us all flashbacks to the early and mid-2000s, and it's a good match that gets Hardy off on the right foot. Still, it's uninspired in isolation; a good match that doesn't tell us too much. That's kind of the M.O. of this SmackDown Live. The potential isn't in the individual segments themselves, but rather the idea of what's to come. Jeff Hardy's presence as United States Champion is certainly welcome, as that title has been stuck in a void of charisma for too long.
Samoa Joe, Andrade Cien Almas, Asuka, and more
Outside of the mere presence of Samoa Joe on the Blue brand, and the pre-recorded promo that promises Cien Almas sometime soon, the best thing to come out of the Shakeup is a change in the women's division. SmackDown's division has been telling the same stories—if any—for months on end. Now though, there's The Iconics looking to make their mark, and Asuka looking to put her streak behind her and go on a new tear. Add in Carmella as the champion who's certainly looking to avoid conflict at every turn, and you have a number of storylines waiting in the wings. With any luck, SmackDown will use this injection of talent to truly give these women the time they deserve. It's been too long since Becky Lynch felt important.
To really boil it down, this is a familiar looking SmackDown Live, but one that feels transitional. It gets some pieces into place before really clarifying certain feuds. We get Big Cass standing tall at the end of the night, possibly starting a short program with Daniel Bryan, which is a perfectly fine way to kill some time with Bryan before his feud with The Miz. Nakamura continues to be a pest, hitting AJ Styles in the dick and claiming he can't speak English so that he doesn't have to explain himself. It's so good. These are all perfectly fine momenta, but what comes next is what matters. Between The Bar and Gallows and Anderson shaking up the tag team division, and Cien Almas finding his way into something important, SmackDown Live is showing a promise it hasn't had in months.
- Both Carmella and The Bludgeon Brothers not really getting much heat with the crowd could be a problem if we're in for lengthy title runs with those heels.
- I really thought that when Shelton Benjamin said he wanted "big competition," we were getting Braun Strowman on SmackDown Live.
- You have to love WWE just switching Absolution and the Riott Squad because they're exactly the same thing and it all means nothing.
- It looks like Nikki Cross isn't making the jump with Sanity, but perhaps that could change.
- It turns out that New Day, R-Truth, and Tye Dillinger are pretty great in a comedy segment together.
AJ Styles defeated Rusev via DQ; Jeff Hardy defeated Shelton Benjamin; Luke Harper defeated Jey Uso; Samoa Joe defeated Sin Cara; Charlotte defeated Billie Kay; Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles vs. Rusev and Aiden English ended in a No Contest.