By Jake Barnett
WWE Smackdown on USA Network
Aired live from St. Paul, Minnesota at Xcel Energy Center
Backstage, Shane McMahon looked at the replay from last week’s show where Luke Harper clearly eliminated AJ Styles, and the match was called the tie. AJ then walked up, and said that if they got the right angle, it would have shown Harper’s feet touching first. Bryan said he was lucky to have any opportunity, and said that the match with Harper would happen later. He started to run down Luke Harper, who then walked up behind him. AJ wondered when the last time he showered was, and said he looks like the hair that clogs the drain. Shane and Bryan egged him on, until he realized that Harper was right behind him. Styles stormed off and Luke Harper got right in the faces of Bryan and Shane and said thank you.
In the arena, The Miz and Maryse made their entrance for MizTV while footage was shown of The Miz eliminating John Cena from the Battle Royal last week despite already being out of the match himself. Miz welcomed everyone to MizTV, and said he wanted to get right down to it. He then invited out John Cena. The crowd gave Cena a mixed reaction, and the Miz cut him off before he could speak. Miz said he could talk when he said he could. He the said he has 10 years of frustration to get off his chest, and a lot of opportunities were lost because of him. He launched into a tirade about Cena being manipulative and how he uses his clout with management to get his way.
Miz said Cena is the kind of guy who everyone wonders how he got to where he is. He talks to the right people and makes the right connections, and pretty soon he’s running the place. Miz said Cena gets everything and he gets to be the other guy. He claimed Cena won’t let him be anything else than the other guy. He reminded Cena WrestleMania was just around the corner, and there was a time when he Main Evented WrestleMania and beat John Cena, but he turned it around two weeks later and manipulated it into nothing. Miz then moved on to Cena reading the Rock the riot act about going to Hollywood, and now that Hollywood is calling him, nobody can see him anymore. You sold out chants rang out in the building.
Miz said he did sell out, and everyone knows it. He said he can walk out and play the character of John Cena, but he’s a parody of his former self, and even that was a joke. He’s not super Cena anymore, he’s just barely decent Cena. He accused Cena of wanting to have his cake and eat it too. He said he wants to be in WWE and in Hollywood, but Miz is the one who is there every week doing all the work. He then brought up Cena tying Ric Flair’s record, and said that he had manipulated his way into that title shot and into the record books. Miz then said he did what he did last week because he wanted to return the favor to Cena for denying him all those opportunities.
Cena mocked Miz for getting a chance to go toe to toe with Cena and making the same points everyone else has made for over a decade. He said if he was really a black arts manipulator, does he really think he’d be in the ring standing face to face with Miz? No, he’d be going face to face with The Undertaker. He then said the people that run with him believe in him, and those that don’t make their voice heard too. A dueling Cena chant then broke out, and he laughed. He said that was something that can’t be falsified. Everybody in the building knows who Cena is, but who is Miz. He made his mark on the real world by stealing The Rock’s gimmick on the real world, then Chris Jericho’s personality, Daniel Bryan’s offense, and now the same things AJ Style’s has been saying for the last 6 months. He said if you ask all the greats, they’ll tell you the same thing, they’re personality is themselves turned up to 11. Miz doesn’t know who he is, he’s a dude dressed like another dude playing another dude. Cena then told Miz that he isn’t the Undertaker, but if he pressed him, he’d be a dead man.
Maryse then piped up and said that Cena wishes he was half the man Miz was, and said that big egos mean small packages. She then slapped Cena. This prompted Cena to say she made the biggest mistake of her life, and Nikki Bella ran down. Miz and Maryse ran off, and then Nikki grabbed a mic and said she would was going to “break you bitch” to a crowd pop. Nikki and Cena then embraced.
Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James in a two out of three falls match was next. Luke Harper vs. AJ Styles and a Bray Wyatt promo were plugged for later.
My Take: Explosive opening segment. The crowd loved it. I don’t know if there is much selling left to do for this match promo wise, but they did a nice job of setting the stage. Cena looked to be having some fun, and Miz was good even though Cena was 100% right about his promo being entirely derivative.
Becky James made her entrance, followed by Mickie James. The usual announce crew of Mauro, Tom Phillips, Otunga, and JBL were on commentary.
1. Becky Lynch vs. Mickie James: They started out slow with a standing switch and an arm drag. James avoided a corner springboard kick out on the apron, but was Becky answered with a baseball slide that hit flush…[c]
Mickie ground Becky’s face into the mat and followed up with a kick to the chest. She hit another kick and a snap mare, but Becky popped up and started on a comeback. She hit a flying forearm and went for a suplex, but Mickie recovered and sent her crashing into the second turnbuckle. She then followed up with a big DDT for the first fall…[c]
Mickie James scored the first fall.
Mickie fired back with a spinning back kick. James fired back with a flapjack and kipped up. Mickie climbed to the top, but missed and got caught with a rollup for the second fall.
Becky Lynch scored the second fall.
Mickie got angry and choked Becky on the ropes until a break was forced. Becky fired back with an exploder suplex, and both women were down. Alexa Bliss ran out and interfered to prevent the count of a fall. Becky avoided the interference this time, and Mickie ran into Alexa on the apron when she tried a surprise attack. Becky then applied the disarmer shortly after and got a submission for the third fall.
Becky Lynch defeated Mickie James at 14:33.
Backstage, Luke Harper said he made peace with his demons, and now they help him. He said he’s not afraid anymore, and he sees the world with new eyes. He said if he wins his match later tonight, Bray should be very afraid of him.
Bray Wyatt was then shown backstage, and said that he would go on to make WrestleMania his kingdom, along with Randy Orton, the man who had supplicated himself to him. He said he would go to WrestleMania as a god and the WWE Champion…[c]
My Take: A bit of a mediocre match between James and Lynch. I liked parts of it, but the commercial breaks made it disjointed and as a result it wasn’t really able to tell much of a compelling story. I was happy to see Lynch not get worked by another contrived interference finish.
Backstage, Alexa Bliss was interviewed by Dasha Fuentes. She was asked about failing to interfere successfully in the match between James and Lynch. She got angry and said that she was tired of being asked about Becky Lynch. She told Dasha to ask her about being the first 2-time Smackdown Women’s Champion. When she did, Alexa put on a fake smile and started to give a boilerplate Oscar speech, until Natalya interrupted. Natalya complimented her initially, but said the title is her until she decides to take it from her.
Elsewhere backstage, AJ Styles was interviewed by Renee Young. He said that it’s a shame they didn’t have another camera angle last week, but he would take care of business tonight and take his place in the Main Event of WrestleMania. Luke Harper and AJ made their ring entrances…[c]
My Take: I can’t say I’m thrilled about two heels feuding over the Women’s Championship, but hopefully it’s just short term. I like Natalya fine, but she’s so unconvincing deliver her lines that it’s hard to take her seriously. Styles and Harper should be a riot.
2. Luke Harper vs. AJ Styles: Harper shoved Styles into the corner to start. He then perched Styles on the turnbuckle and taunted him. Styles grabbed a headlock, but Harper shoved him off and hit a dropkick. Styles adopted a shocked face and rolled to the floor. Harper seemed to be a step ahead of Styles, chasing him around on the outside and tossing him into the apron and steps. He then slammed Styles into the apron and then back into the ring. Styles rolled back to the floor and hit a pele kick went after him.
Styles hit kicks in the ring but couldn’t take control. Harper seemed to have answers for everything Styles did. He hit a senton atomico from the outside in and then hit a big boot for a near fall. He then catapulted AJ’s throat into the second rope. Harper then hit a suicide dive that sent Styles flying over the announce table, and then back into the ring. He then set up for a powerbomb, but Styles reversed. Styles went for a flurry of punches, but Harper reversed into a dragon suplex for a near fall…[c]
Harper hit sit out powerbomb for a near fall. He and Styles then brawled towards the apron. He hit a phenomenal forearm, and got the fall even though Harper’s foot was on the ropes.
AJ Styles won…..maybe.
Shane McMahon then walked out and restarted the match. AJ Styles walked out of the ring to confront Shane. They argued, and Luke Harper approached from behind and blasted Shane McMahon, meaning to hit AJ Styles. Styles then shoved Harper into the ringpost, and then hit a springboard 450 for the win.
AJ Styles defeated Luke Harper at 14:33.
Backstage, Carmella and James Ellsworth walked up to Cena and Nikki and called them phonies. Cena and Nikki then apparently booked themselves in a match with them next week. I guess they can do that.
My Take: Very surprised by the Styles win. I’m guessing there is more to this, so we’ll have to wait and see how the story develops. Shane McMahon getting blasted was a nice touch.
Backstage, AJ Styles walked backstage, and was interrupted by Daniel Bryan. AJ refused a handshake, and said he would attend to Bray Wyatt’s invocation in person. Dean Ambrose made his entrance in the arena. He gave Curt Hawkins a Dirty Deeds DDT before their match starts. He said he’s learned a lot of lessons in life. He said don’t eat burritos and go on roller coasters, don’t call the wrong women sturdy, and always push back when you’re pushed. He demanded a fight with Corbin in the middle of the ring.
Corbin appeared on the tron and said Dean was a speedbump. He cost him the WWE Championship and now he would take everything from him. Corbin said he knows Ambrose likes, pain, but coincidentally he likes handing it out, and he would show him pain like he’s never felt before. Ambrose then replied that he shouldn’t start what he can’t finish, and that it wasn’t over.
My Take: Ho hum segment. Corbin and Ambrose have been ok, but Corbin is still wooden and Ambrose is still playing for comedy far too often.
3. Dolph Ziggler vs. Apollo Crews: Ziggler hit a neckbreaker to get back in the match, but it didn’t last as Crews hit a huge dropkick and Ziggler rolled to the floor. Crews then hit an asai moonsault from the apron…[c]
Crews hit a jawbreaker and kicked a chair out of Ziggler’s hands. He then hit a lariat and an enziguri, followed by a moonsault onto a chair placed on Ziggler for a near fall. Ziggler avoided Crews charging in the corner, and Apollo hit the post. Dolph then rolled him up using the ropes, but only got a two count. Crews set up a chair, but Ziggler thumbed his eyes and hit a drop toe hold on the chair. He then dropped Crews seeds first on the chair, and covered for the win.
Dolph Ziggler defeated Apollo Crews at 9:10.
Ziggler taunted Crews after the bell and said he goes through clowns like him every day. Wyatt’s invocation is next…[c]
My Take: A passable match, but goth guys really lack any direction for traction, and it suffered because of that. People popped for the flashy offense but didn’t seem terribly emotionally invested.
Wyatt said AJ it is. He said he didn’t care whether it was Styles or Harper, because something happens to a man when he steps in the ring with a deity. He said Styles would feel the spirit of Beelzebub himself, and feel the spirit of his master. He said he comes from a place deep in the core of the earth, where the earth turns to lava, a place where Randy is right now.
Orton popped up on the tron from the Wyatt’s compound. He said in this place he can feel the devil call his name, his place of worship, sacred ground. He said at one time he said if you can’t beat them, join him. He said this is Bray’s place, but not his. It never was. So now he says once you join them, and it’s the right time, screw ’em. He told Bray he was standing the ground where Sister Abigail was put to rest. He grabbed a pickaxe, and said he would burn the spirit of Abigail and watch him die with her. He said he would be his servant as long as he was the master, but in a moment he would be the master and it would be over. Orton grabbed a can of gasoline and doused the room he was in. After the first can was gone, he told Bray he was coming for his title at WrestleMania.
He then grabbed a second can and doused the ground where Abigail was supposedly buried. He the poured a trail of gas out the door and on the outside of the building with third. Wyatt was shown traumatized in the arena begging Randy to stop. Orton then went ahead and burnt the shed down as Wyatt went insane in the arena. Wyatt cried and rocked next to the announce table as the show went off the air.
My Take: Well, that was a lot darker than I expected. This was a wild way to set up a WrestleMania match, but it does introduce the interesting possibility of Randy being the heel in all of this rather than Wyatt. I suppose Orton could always call it just desserts and play a babyface, but he sure didn’t come across as one here. Wyatt sobbing and looking shaken to end the show isn’t how I’d book a heel, either. Overall, this was a strong show with some very heavy segments. It was a bit light on action, but they told some interesting stories that are meant to be worthy of WrestleMania feuds. I think they have several interesting possibilities going forward, although AJ playing the third wheel in Wyatt and Orton seems like an odd position to put themselves in.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and guest Will Pruett on the Roman Reigns whodunnit angle, WWE heading into SummerSlam, AEW's October 2 premiere on TNT, the New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Climax Tournament through Day 11, and more (77:45)...