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Just 48 hours before WWE takes over Chicago for its Hell in a Cell premium live event, SmackDown hit the Fox airwaves for an episode highlighted by the continuation of the rivalry between unified WWE tag team champions The Usos and the newly formed tandem of Shinsuke Nakamura and Riddle.
Would Jimmy and Jey Uso add to The Bloodline’s undisputed dominance over WWE or would The Artist and Original Bro deliver a blow to the egos of the titleholders ahead of an inevitable championship clash?
Fans found out Friday night in a broadcast that also saw the return of Madcap Moss following a three-week hiatus caused by the dastardly Happy Corbin.
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A show-opening promo from New Day’s Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods eventually incorporated the man that joined them for last week’s victory over Sheamus, Ridge Holland and Butch, the former WWE champion, Drew McIntyre.
The Brawling Brutes predictably interrupted the proceedings, leading to a rematch of last week’s main event that was so predictable the most novice of fans could have seen it coming.
A solid, action-packed match with Butch delivering the Bitter concluded End to Woods to score the win for the heels and beg the question: why the hell is this feud continuing? For months, Sheamus and Co. have battled New Day, to no measurable benefit of anyone involved. They keep wrestling each other for no real rhyme or reason beyond WWE Creative’s failure to literally find anything else for them to do.
Now, McIntyre has been dragged into the mix, hardly the position a prospective world championship contender ideally finds himself in.
As if the repetitive matches were not bad enough, the outcome of this saw the heels inexplicably get their win back, just seven days after finally getting their comeuppance at the hands of Woods. In the typical unraveling of everything good about last week’s match, it was Woods who suffered the fall and lost some of that important credibility that he gained by way of his win a week ago.
Lazy creative helped somewhat by a very good match between five strong workers and a sixth in Holland who is improving with every passing week.
- Commentator Pat McAfee started the show with a killer crack, ensuring the viewing audience that night’s advertised Six-Pack Challenge will actually happen, a clear reference to a similar match scheduled the night Sasha Banks and Naomi walked out of Raw.
- McIntyre has seemingly accepted the “Big D” nickname McAfee provided him a week ago.
- “That’s why New Day will go into the Hall of Fame. Always on the same page. They just delivered a 10-piece on Butch and he didn’t even know it,” McAfee said of Kingston and Woods’ team chemistry.
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The latest in the burgeoning dance gimmick of the massive Shanky saw his partner, former WWE champion Jinder Mahal, battle Los Lotharios’ Humberto in singles competition.
The Modern-Day Maharaja scored the win in a nondescript match more concerned with getting over Shanky’s new on-screen gimmick than anything that went down between the ropes.
After the bell, Shanky danced with Samantha Irvin at ringside, teasing a potential on-screen pairing between the two. Whether that is for better or worse remains to be seen but Vince McMahon’s fingerprints are all over this one. Shanky has adopted a character that worked wonders for Hall of Famer The Great Khali. Whether he has the awkward charisma to pull it off in the way the former world champion did remains to be seen.
- Mahal actually won a match. What that means for the stock of Los Lotharios is anyone’s guess but one would be hardpressed to spin it positively.
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The search for SmackDown women’s champion Ronda Rousey’s next challenger continued Friday with a 6-Pack Challenge Match featuring top contenders Raquel Rodriguez, Shotzi, Xia Li, Natalya, Shayna Baszler and Aliyah.
A fast-paced match in which there was a lot of movement without anything actually happening, it saw the wily veteran Natalya seize an opening created by Rodriguez and score a pinfall victory on Shotzi for the win and title opportunity.
There are always worse options than Nattie, who has put in the work and established herself as a future Hall of Famer. She is one of the most technically sound wrestlers on the roster and has repeatedly shown up and shown out when given the opportunity in these high-profile title matches. Her submission-based style should mesh well with Rousey’s and result in a very good match, if nothing else.
The Queen of Harts is hardly the most exciting option of the lot but it makes sense that WWE officials would want to hold off on overexposing the Rodriguez-Rousey match-up. A showdown between Rowdy and real-life best friend Baszler deserves better build and much more fanfare than a thrown-together program.
With Shotzi and Aliyah stuck in an undercard feud and Li nowhere near ready to be taken seriously in a match with Rousey, Natalya is as good as any option. Unfortunately, her win dela came in a match that she was never able to develop into anything more than a collection of spots before the abrupt finish.
- Shotzi paid Aliyah back for last week by locking her in the locker room and teasing the possibility that the NXT export would miss out on a championship opportunity.
- Michael Cole got tongue-tied calling the match, meshing Aliyah and Xia’s names together. “I’ll get it right one of these days,” he said in response to a correction from Pat McAfee is a funny line. “Aliyah is going to make sure you say her name for years to come,” the color commentator said in a follow-up.
- The tense staredown between Rousey and Natalya ensued following the bout.
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Madcap Moss returned, stepping out of an ambulance before entering the arena with new theme music, a new look and a more serious demeanor than fans have seen out of him during this most recent run.
Happy Corbin interrupted the proceedings, as expected before WWE official Adam Pearce ordered a match between the two to start immediately.
After several moments of stalling by Corbin, an infuriated Moss unloaded on his rival with a steel chair, then teased using the steel steps to smash the heel’s head. Officials hit the ring to prevent the assault while Samantha Irvin announced on commentary that Corbin was the official winner of the match due to disqualification.
From the promo to the “match,” this was a solid bit of business, thanks to the aggression-filled performance of Moss. Gone were the bad jokes and pandering to fans. He was serious, intense and hellbent on avenging a career-threatening attack from Corbin. The result was a crowd that bought into him and wanted to see him punish his former cohort.
That time will come sooner rather than later. For now, fans can at least be cautiously optimistic that WWE has switched up Moss’ presentation.
If only it would do something about that name…
- Moss recalled a dream in which Corbin taunted him, repeatedly telling him to tell him a joke. In the dream, he unloaded punch after punch on his former employer.
- The intensity on Moss’ face was the perfect reflection of the pent-up rage and frustration he felt after the events of the last month.
- The crowd booing Pearce and Co. as they actually prevented Moss from dealing a crushing blow to Corbin was indicative of an angle working. Fans want to see Moss silence Corbin and get a measure of revenge.
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The much-publicized Unified WWE Tag Team Championship match pitting The Usos against challengers Riddle and Shinsuke Nakamura did not quite turn out as expected, thanks to a scripted mid-match injury suffered by The Artist.
Nakamura’s departure from the bout left Riddle to go it alone, not only to preserve championship aspirations but to avenge the injuries suffered by RK-Bro teammate Randy Orton a few weeks earlier.
He came seriously close to pulling off the inconceivable, only to have one of the great performances of his WWE run come to a disappointing end following a late-match distraction provided by Sami Zayn, who cued up Roman Reigns’ theme music from the production truck , allowing the Usos to take advantage and score the successful title defense.
The match was fantastic, should have been on the premium live event Sunday, and, like him or not, Riddle continues to impress with every passing contest. He is a great babyface, a physical performer and has worked hard to implement the facial expressions and body language that help set apart the quality performers and genuine main event performers.
Kudos to The Usos, too, who have stepped up and helped carry SmackDown in cousin Reigns’ absence. Zayn has been equally as excellent as the delusional coattails rider.
- Nakamura collided with the ring steps at ringside, initially injuring the knee. The Usos targeted the joint and attacked it, leading to their opponent’s exit from the match.
- The crowd’s reaction to the mere beginning of Reigns’ theme music is reflective of a star head and shoulders above everyone else on the roster in terms of sheer overness.
- Riddle borrowed from Orton’s arsenal and popped the crowd down the stretch, giving them reason to believe he might pull off the upset.
- Riddle’s attack on Zayn seemingly planted the seeds for a showdown between the two imminently.