Tonight’s Smackdown Live follows Sunday’s No Mercy PPV, with Randy Orton and Kane facing Bray Wyatt and his right hand man Luke Harper. Also announced prior to the broadcast, WWE Champion AJ Styles to announce his next opponent, and Chad Gable to have his first singles match on Smackdown Live.
DOLPH ZIGGLER vs. THE SPIRIT SQUAD (Mikey & Kenny)
Everyone – from dirt sheets to insiders – seemed 100% certain that Dolph Ziggler was going to lose his match and retire to the WWE backstage office after No Mercy. He proved everyone wrong and won his 5th Intercontinental title instead. Ziggler comes to the ring to “You deserve it” chants and kicks into his promo. It’s no secret I’ve never been a huge Ziggler fan – he’s always been great in the ring, but he always seemed to lack a sincerity on the mic. But the past year, Ziggler has really elevated his promo skills. Recent promos with Dean Ambrose and The Miz cemented he finally has the tools to be the Superstar he always believed he could be. He’s becoming someone the Universe is getting behind, not so much an underdog story, but as a man that constantly pushes himself. After declaring “WE DID IT!” to the fans, he’s interrupted by The Miz and Maryse, who hold a silent protest in the middle of the ring, before saying they were having a moment of silence for the death of the IC title. And by God, The Miz is on an unbelievable run right now. Even without the title, he’s fire on the mic. Besides Charlotte, he is perhaps the best true heel that the WWE has on their combined roster. His passion to regain the IC title after a 188-day reign and Ziggler’s excitement at winning it, is making the Intercontinental title feel like the title of old, rather than the prop that was passed around the past few years.
The Spirit Squad (Kenny and Mikey) come down for a handicap match versus Dolph Ziggler. Considering all the trash talking Kenny has done since leaving the WWE the last time (especially against John Cena) it’s still shocking to see him back in a WWE ring. Typical heel beat down, until Ziggler catches Kenny with a Superkick and picks up the win (with Mauro Ranallo screaming “OH MY GOD! HE KILLED KENNY!”). Miz (who stuck around to watch from ringside with Maryse) enters the ring and makes it a three on one beatdown. Heath Slater and Rhyno run down to make the save and the three heels back off giving each other the eyes.
GRADE: 6.5/10 – Decent promo to keep the Miz/Ziggler feud going, and Spirit Squad have been fun in their small return. Not sure if they’re back for good, but for now they play in nicely with The Miz’ angle of putting down Ziggler’s history by having the low point of his career beating on him again. Odd to have Slater and Rhyno come to his aid and they have no real history beforehand, but nice to see them get integrated in more meaningful storylines and not just be comedy relief in the tag team division. Match was average, but was merely a side step in the bigger narrative.
BACKSTAGE SEGMENT: DANIEL BRYAN & SHANE McMAHON
Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon inform the audience that they are challenging Raw to three traditional Survivor Series matches at this year’s Survivor Series from Toronto: a 5-on-5 match with each side’s best five male singles wrestlers, a 10-team Tag Team Elimination Match and a 5-on-5 match with eash brand’s best five women’s wrestlers.
GRADE: 10/10 – The delivery was very formal, almost to the point of being forced or read from cue cards, but the news was worth the listen. Three huge traditional Survivor Series matches, brand vs. brand, is a great way to inspire interest in the WWE’s Fall Classic again, which has routinely been lambasted by fans the past decade for seemingly distancing itself from the entire Survivor Series concept (and when they did, it was lower card guys). And while some may lament the matches lack focus or storyline, if any PPV deserves to have some match-ups strictly for spots and fun, it’s Survivor Series. Bragging rights alone are worth the watch – essentially it’s a Best 2-out-of-3 for each brand, and a chance to showcase each brand’s best. It will interesting if Braun Strowman ends up on the Raw squad and he faces off against Bray Wyatt for Smackdown Live.
CARMELLA vs. NAOMI
Carmella comes down to the ring and her entrance is cut as they do a recap video of Carmella’s attack on Nikki Bella. Noami‘s music starts and Naomi’s rave party ensues. Somewhere, several hundred WWE fans are having seizures. It’s been night and day the transformation of Carmella as a heel. She’s still a bit green in the ring, but her tenacity covers some of that. She’s a far better heel than a face. As the good girl, she was annoyingly unwatchable. As a heel, she’s been downright ruthless. Ultimately, she could do with the rub of beating Nikki Bella in her feud. Naomi is another one who’s done well with a change of character. She looked terrible as a Funkadactyl, but her initial heel run showed a character and style no one knew she had in her. Team BAD was the most tolerable of the teams during the Diva’s Revolution, and while it’s a shame she had to abandon her heel character, she’s transitioned well back to a fan favourite again. A short match-up that ends up with Nikki Bella storming the ring and Naomi picking up the win on a roll-up while Carmella was distracted.
Backstage, Alexa Bliss claims that Naomi’s win at No Mercy was a fluke because her entrance music gave her motion sickness and that she could beat her any night of the week. Daniel Bryan walks in and tells her to prove it next week in a singles match.
GRADE: 6.5/10. Not a show stealer, but it did the trick. Carmella progresses in her feud with Nikki and Naomi now enters a short program with Alexa while Becky Lynch mends up. Not a bad option either – it builds some more character development for Bliss and some momentum for Naomi after the run is done. Either that, or the Smackdown Women’s title match ends up a Triple Threat with Becky facing both Naomi and Bliss.
CHAD GABLE vs. JIMMY USO
Back from commercial and both competitors are in the ring, with their respective partners at ringside. Gable starts off on the attack, grounding Uso and working on his shoulder. Uso mounts a small comeback until Gable does a Skin The Cat Hurricanrana on Uso to the outside of the ring. Despite controlling most of the match, Gable goes down when JImmy does a quick roll up and Jey sneaks from behind and pushes on his brother’s back to hold down the pin.
Hype Bros (Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley) are backstage in the locker room discussing focusing on the tag team titles when The Ascension enters the locker room to stare them down then leave.
GRADE: 6/10. Short match-up that seemed more to reintroduce the two back together to continue their feud before the Usos went after the tag titles from Slater and Rhyno. Gable got some decent offence in, Usos win with a cheat, and these two are back into a program to settle past scores. And I guess the Hype Bros are about to enter a feud with The Ascension following the fallout of their Pre-Show matchup at No Mercy.
IN-RING SEGMENT: AJ STYLES
AJ Styles immediately announces that “The Champ. Is. Here!” before going into his recent resume, with his wins over John Cena, Dean Ambrose and Cena and Ambrose together. AJ continues to gloat and puts down the audience for cheering for him, trying to turn the burgeoning cheers into jeers. AJ declares that he is going to be a fighting champion since Smackdown Live is the “land of opportunity”, then proceeds to declare he is about to give someone an opportunity for a match right now.
Dean Ambrose’s music hits and judging by Styles’ reaction, he wasn’t the the man he was expecting. Dean enters the mic and says he must not be talking about him, even though he deserves it. Styles laughs and says his opponent isn’t even on the roster. He points up the ramp and announces it’s…JAMES ELLSWORTH. The Most Famous Chin in wrestling since Sgt. Slaughter. Ellsworth comes down to the ring, where he’s embraced by Styles. Styles demands that Ambrose leaves so they can have their match.
Daniel Bryan’s music hits and he comes out telling AJ that he can’t just make his own matches. But lucky for him, Bryan is a huge Ellsworth fan, so he approves of this match. And just to make it interesting, Dean Ambrose is announced as the Special Guest Referee for the match.
GRADE: 6.5/10 – Styles seems more comfortable on the mic now than any other time of his career. He’s very good at being a smug prick. Ellsworth’s cheers are getting less each appearance, so WWE needs to make sure that this guy’s feel good story doesn’t end becoming a running joke.
AJ STYLES vs. JAMES ELLSWORTH, w/ DEAN AMBROSE AS GUEST REF
Fun match, as AJ was constantly being irked by Ambrose’s reffing. Ellsworth tried to steal a roll-up out of one confrontation, following Ambrose tripping Styles in the middle of the ring. Ambrose did everything he could to get under Styles’ skin, with fast counts when he was outside the ring, slow counts, throwing Ellsworth back in the ring, and ignoring the match to sign an autograph for a “fan”. Styles hit the Styles Clash on Ellsworth but Dean stopped at two and instead hit AJ with the Dirty Deeds. He threw Ellsworth on top for the fast count, but AJ still kicked out. Dean hits another Dirty Deeds and again puts Ellsworth on top, this time fast counting a quick three. James Ellsworth just got the biggest win of his career.
Backstage, Kane is approached by Randy Orton, who says that Kane is only other person who knows what it’s like to be in Hell. He goes on a rant about inside his head and the world he lives in, before asking Kane if he’s in to “come along for the ride”. Kane nods, says yes, but adds that Orton “has issues”.
GRADE: 7/10. Styles and Ambrose have a great chemistry on the mic. While the match itself was inconsequential, it showed Ambrose eating away at Styles’ sanity. With Cena off again, Ambrose and Styles will continue their feud, as Ambrose continues to try and make the normally ice cold Phenomenal One snap. Kane and Orton’s pairing may seem odd, but it actually makes perfect sense. Orton is a loner and Kane’s one of the last remaining guys from Orton’s prime – he wouldn’t have many other people to turn to. And Kane’s got history with the Wyatts. So far, the entire episode has lacked any standout amazing moments but it’s moving every storyline forward with a little more narrative or direction. For that reason alone, I imagine that people who are more into spots than story will hate this episode.
Backstage, AJ berates Daniel Bryan for allowing Ambrose to referee before Shane McMahon steps in and tells him that the win will count and it will go down in history than Ellsworth pinned AJ Styles. In response to Shane asking him if it’s understood, Styles replies “Understood. I’ll just have to take things into my own hands” and walks off. Bryan smirks and says “Speaking of Ellsworth, I have an idea for next week…”
RANDY ORTON & KANE vs. BRAY WYATT & LUKE HARPER
The Wyatt Family enter the ring first, amidst the glow of their fireflies. Apart from the seeming Ziggler swerve on Sunday, the other shocker was seeing Luke Harper return to Bray Wyatt‘s side. Harper had returned to action the week before on Live Events, but he spent the whole duration travelling with the Raw brand. While everyone wanted Harper alongside Bray, most assumed he was headed to Monday nights. Harper initiates the opening promo before turning over the mic to Wyatt, who proceeds to speil another speech that sounds like the words of a Dungeons & Dragons cleric.
Kane’s music hits and he enters first for his team, followed by “The Viper” Randy Orton. Tonight’s main event gets underway with the two big men, Harper and Kane, starting off. A quick offence by Harper before he tags in Wyatt to continue the attack on The Big Red Machine. Back and forth for much of the match, until Orton takes down Wyatt. As Orton went into his Apex Predator stance, Harper interferes causing the distraction. As Orton was going for the hot tag on Kane, the lights go out and when they return, Kane is gone and Harper is in Orton’s corner. A stunned Orton turns back into a Sister Abigail from Wyatt, and the Wyatt Family takes the win.
GRADE: 7/10 – Another match where the in-ring action took a backseat to advancing the narrative. The Wyatts continue to play head games with Orton, Harper got a nice return look, and Bray scores two wins in a row for the first time in what feels like forever.
OVERALL GRADE: 7/10 – While most “fall out” shows post PPV usually have big moments to kickstart new angles, this one was more slight nudges and realignments for all existing storylines. No real OMG moments of the show and the biggest thing to emerge was probably that James Ellsworth’s indie appearance fee probably just doubled. Not a memorable episode by any means, but a necessary one in making sure the current storyline narratives were on course for the foreseeable future.
Main Photo: WWE.com