By Jason Powell
WWE Smackdown Live on USA Network
Aired live from Phoenix, Arizona at Talking Stick Resort Arena
[Q1] The show opened with an Independence Day themed opening that drifted into a bunch of WWE wrestler catchphrases… Tom Phillips, JBL, and Byron Saxton were on commentary…
Ring announcer Greg Hamilton introduced John Cena, who made his entrance and ran the ropes once in the ring. Cena told the crowd to bring it on and said they can’t rattle him because he’s fired up. He received more cheers than boos, but told the fans they can do better than that. There were “Let’s Go Cena” and “Cena Sucks.”
Cena asked the fans if they missed him. He said he was fired up because it’s Independence Day. He spoke about anyone could come to the country and achieve greatness. Cena said he loves the country and he feels the same way when he stands in the ring. He said WWE is the same in that superstars from around the world and from all walks of life get a chance to compete in the ring to prove they are the best. Cena said he wants to compete with the best whenever he enters the ring.
Cena said wrestlers were spreading rumors about his future. Huh? He said they claimed he went Hollywood or that he was a part-timer. Cena said said he’s not a part-timer, he’s an all-timer. He said that means Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live. Cena said that if his time in WWE is limited, then he’s going down in a blaze of glory. Cena listed names of top wrestlers from both brands and said line them up and he’ll knock them down.
Rusev made his entrance and walked out with the Bulgarian flag and without Lana. Rusev, who had short hair and a beard, said he works so hard in the ring that he got hurt. He said that Cena went to Hollywood and now he’s back on Independence Day. Rusev asked where his comeback commercials were. Rusev recalled sending video messages to Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan and getting no response. Rusev said he’s not waiting any longer and Cena isn’t taking any opportunity from him.
“Your American Dream is a lie just like America is a joke,” Rusev said. The fans booed and then chanted USA. Cena asked if Rusev was joking. He said every joke has a punchline. He invited him to stand in the ring and said he would punch him in the mouth. Rusev said that they march and show their strength on the Bulgarian Independence Day while Americans fill their faces with cheeseburgers and hot dogs.
Powell’s POV: And potato salad. Don’t you dare forget the potato salad. Both of my late grandfathers fought for our right to consume ridiculous amounts of potato salad on Independence Day.
Cena said we also blow things up too. Rusev said it wasn’t a compliment. Rusev held up the Bulgarian flag. Cena said Rusev has been gone for a while and had time to think, which is always a bad idea. Cena said American’s don’t boss people around, they fought for the freedom to have a voice. He said Americans are not afraid to stand up and fight for what they believe in.
[Q2] Cena proposed having a flag match against Rusev later in the show. The fans, apparently drunk from Independence Day parties and forgetting that flag matches suck, chanted Yes! Rusev said not today, they would fight on his time and his terms. Cena called him a coward. Cena had the crowd chant USA at Rusev, then Cena’s music played to close the segment…
The broadcast team hyped Naomi vs. Lana for the Smackdown Women’s Championship, and a rap battle between New Day and the Usos hosted by Wale…
Backstage, Daniel Bryan was on the phone when Chad Gable arrived and then A.J. Styles. Bryan said he’s sick of Kevin Owens calling him and claiming neither one of them should be in the Independence Day battle royal. Bryan said Owens has a point in that he’d beaten both men over the last couple weeks. Bryan suggested Styles vs. Gable in a “win and you’re in” match. Styles said he’s up for a little competition. Gable said he’s more than just a little competition. Bryan said the match was coming up next… [C]
Powell’s POV: So we just had a 15-minute promo and verbal exchange that resulted in Cena giving a weak explanation about his free agency and proposing a match that was blown off by the heel. I like that WWE cares enough about the brand split that they labeled Cena a free agent, but it would have been nice if they had thought a little beyond that and explained why he’s a free agent and why he’s apparently not required to sign with one brand or the other. Meanwhile, the Gable vs. Styles match is a pleasant surprise. Finally, I’m filling in for Jake Barnett, who is watching fireworks with his wife and daughter tonight. He will be handling the Hit List on Wednesday and joining me for the Dot Net Weekly audio show on Thursday.
1. A.J. Styles vs. Chad Gable for a spot in the Independence Day battle royal. Gable came out on his own. No sign of Jason Jordan, though Gable was introduced as one-half of American Alpha. They cut to a break within the opening minute, but the match was shown via picture-in-picture as the commercials aired. Styles went for the Styles Clash at 5:00, but Gable countered into an ankle lock.
[Q3] Styles tried to roll out of the ankle lock, but Gable held on. Styles eventually countered into a Calf Crusher, which Gable escaped. Styles threw a couple of strikes and then Gable tossed him over his head tot he mat. JBL questioned whether either man would have anything left for the battle royal.
Styles avoided a rolling German suplex with a rollup for a two count. Styles followed up with a Pele Kick. Styles connected with the Phenomenal Forearm for the win. Afterward, Styles helped Gable to his feet and gave him a respectful nod…
AJ Styles beat Chad Gable in 7:15 to qualify for the Independence Day battle royal.
Powell’s POV: A nice television match. I’d love to see what those two could do with ten more minutes. Styles won the match and is the favorite to win the battle royal, but it was encouraging to hear the broadcast team rave about Gable and his bright future.
Backstage, Mojo Rawley picked up a Hype Bros t-shirt. Zack Ryder entered the room and said he hoped Mojo wasn’t still thinking about last week. Mojo said it was all good. Ryder said they had to put that in the rearview. Ryder told Mojo that he talked Daniel Bryan into putting them in the battle royal. Mojo said he made a big mistake and smiled as he talked about winning the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Ryder smiled and said that’s only because he wasn’t in the match…
A shot aired of Carmella and James Ellsworth walking backstage… [C]
Carmella carried the Money in the Bank briefcase to the ring while Ellsworth followed. The broadcast team recapped her second MITB ladder match win. Ellsworth announced that he was cancelling Independence Day in favor of a “Carmellabration.” Carmella laughed at the fans for thinking someone else was going to win the second MITB ladder match. Carmella cited the Rollins Stones for saying you can’t always get what you want. She said that’s true unless you are her. She started to talk about Naomi.
Smackdown Women’s Champion Naomi made her entrance. Her title belt now has lights on it. Naomi entered the ring and told Carmella that her eyes are always open and her glow will always be on. Naomi addressed Ellsworth by saying someone else had some words for him.
Daniel Bryan made his entrance and received a great reaction from his adopted hometown. Bryan asked Ellsworth what he’s going to do with him.
[Q4] Bryan barred Ellsworth from the arena. Ellsworth laughed and asked, “How ever will I get back in?” Bryan added that he was fining Ellsworth $10,000. Ellsworth said he didn’t have that kind of money to burn. Bryan told him not to expect a paycheck for 30 days because he’s suspended. Bryan said that if Ellsworth didn’t leave immediately and broke any rules, he would strip Carmella of the MITB contract. Carmella grabbed Ellsworth and dragged him out of the ring. Bryan and Naomi did the Yes! bit with the crowd…
Powell’s POV: A good segment with Carmella boasting about her MITB win, and Naomi showing confidence despite MITB being in play. I like that Bryan suspended Ellsworth. I get a kick out of the guy and I think he enhances Carmella’s act, but I like when there are ramifications things such as Ellsworth being banned from ringside. Will Ellsworth get around this by showing up in a mask? The Midnight Ellsworth?
2. Naomi vs. Lana for the Smackdown Women’s Championship. Hamilton delivered in-ring introductions for the title match. Naomi kicked Lana in the gut, performed a sunset flip, and then applied a submission hold for the win…
Naomi beat Lana via submission in 0:10 to retain the Smackdown Women’s Championship.
After the match, Tamina entered the ring. Lana was holding her right shoulder. “Hey, get up,” Tamina told Lana. “Get up, let’s go. Come on.” Tamina left the ring and Lana eventually followed…
Backstage, Shinsuke Nakamura was about to be interviewed when Baron Corbin showed up and hit him from behind. Corbin asked Nakamura if he looks like he’s afraid of him. Nakamura landed a couple of strikes. Referees intervened and kept them apart…
The broadcast team hyped the Rap Battle between New Day and the Usos for after the break… [C]
Powell’s POV: An interesting development with Tamina having some type of interest in Lana. Is she a hired bodyguard or something else?
Phillips announced that Daniel Bryan had booked John Cena vs. Rusev in a flag match for Battleground…
In the ring, Hamilton introduced hip-hop artist Wale, who received a favorable reaction as the host of the rap battle. The Usos made their entrance and were accompanied by a bunch of guys wearing hoodies and the Day One Ish t-shirts.
[Q5] New Day made their entrance and were accompanied by an entourage that included people dressed as a sailor, Abe Lincoln, a guy in a Eagle suit head, another wearing an Uncle Sam hat a George Washington wig. Wale said they were going to keep it clean. Big E said the Usos eat off the table they set, because pre-shows and dark matches were all they did. He had another line about them being bums. “And speaking of butts, say hi to your pops,” E said. “Because even Rikishi knows New Day rocks.”
The Usos took a jab at Xavier Woods’s height. They also closed by telling E that they wanted to keep it PG and not to “get all rated R like your boy Xavier Woods.” The live crowd popped and clearly got the reference to his sex tape leak.
Kingston took a jab at Jimmy for looking like he’s never worked out a gym and said the same goes for Jey since he’s his twin. Kingston had another line about the Usos having muffin top bellies and wrestling in shirts. He said they have the first trimester pooch. He said they have “weenie do.” He explained that it’s when “your gut hangs out more than your weenie do.” There was a brief Weenie Do” chant.
The Usos mocked Kingston for acting Jamaican earlier in this career. They said he was just Jafakin’ and gave Jamaicans a bad name. Xavier Woods fired back by saying they look like recently divorced dads, and said they weren’t anything until Jimmy’s wife put him on Total Divas. Woods also told them to get back to carrying backs for Roman (Reigns). One of the Usos pushed Woods. Wale said that’s why they can’t have nothing and why he was suspended last time. He disqualified the Usos and named New Day the winners…
Randy Orton was shown walking backstage… [C]
Powell’s POV: There were a few fun insults that kept it watchable. I’m not sure if I’m more surprised that the sex tape was referenced or that so many fans were aware of it. By the way, Wale once said he was banned from WWE because of an altercation with a heckler, so that’s what he was referring to at the end.
[Q6] Backstage, Titus O’Neil said tonight’s the night that viewers do not want to miss the WWE Network. He said they were coming up on a big cruiserweight title match on Sunday, but this was the night that Titus Worldwide would take over 205 Live…
Aiden English was introduced and he started to sing in the ring until he was interrupted by Randy Orton’s entrance music. Once Orton entered the ring, English asked if he was finished because he wasn’t done. English hit Orton with the mic twice and ended up running Orton into the ring steps. English went back to singing his song while Orton recovered at ringside… [C] It was a picture-in-picture break, and English went back to ringside and worked over Orton before rolling him inside the ring and covering him for a two count, so apparently the match was on…
3. Randy Orton vs. Aiden English. English put Orton in a chinlock. Orton performed a powerslam just before they came back from the break. Orton dominated English and roughed him up at ringside. Orton ran him into the barricade and then the ring post. Saxton told Jinder Mahal that this is the man he will be locked inside a Punjabi Prison match with. Orton dropped English on the broadcast table. Orton picked up a pice of the ring steps. Referee Charles Robinson warned Orton that he would be disqualified if he used the steps. Orton hit English with it for the DQ. Orton rolled English back inside the ring and gave him an RKO…
Aiden English beat Randy Orton by DQ.
After the match, Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers walked onto the stage. Mahal said USA is the home of prejudice and ignorance. He said the fans disrespect him because of the way he talks and because of the color of his skin. Jinder said that he is still WWE Champion despite this. Jinder said he would put all the fans in a Punjabi Prison if he could and then teach them respect and beat tolerance into them. He said he will destroy “this once great legend” at the pay-per-view and prove why he is the one great superpower in WWE.
Orton cut off Mahal before he could speak in Punjabi. Orton said no one could stop him from punishing Mahal in the prison match. Orton said it’s right that nobody likes Mahal. He said it’s not because of how Mahal speaks or looks or where he’s from, it’s because Jinder is and always will be a jackass…
[Q7] The broadcast team hyped the Great Balls of Fire as well as the WWE Battleground events. They also hyped the Independence Day Battle Royal… [C]
Powell’s POV: More of the same from Jinder on the mic. I guess I didn’t expect the foreign heel schtick to change on Independence Day, but I hope he eventually gets to stray from his promo formula. At least they had the babyface defend the fans by saying that they don’t dislike Jinder because of the way he speaks or where he’s from.
A shot aired of Tye Dillinger walking backstage. Tyler Breeze wore a wig and interviewed him while Fandango was dressed in construction gear behind them. Tyler claimed to be Tenee Young and asked Dillinger for his strategy in the battle royal. He said he would stay away from the ropes and keep everything in the middle. He said Breezango is a threat because they can work together. He said they should know that they may have to face one another and questioned what they would do. Dillinger told “Tenee” that she was a ten. After Dillinger left, Fandango asked Breeze if Dillinger knew it was them. Breeze said he didn’t even know it was them…
Powell’s POV: Another good week for Breezango. The early Fashion Files did nothing for me, but last week’s was comical and this was good for a few laughs.
Renee Young was shown in another part of the backstage area reacting to Tenee Young. Fans laughed. She said Tenee filled out the dress. Renee interviewed Mike and Maria Kanellis and asked about the power of love message. She said love is undeniable, ageless, and timeless. She said everyone wants it and not everyone gets it. There were brief technical issues so they cut to a shot of the crowd briefly while Mike gushed over his wife. There was a crashing sound. They cut to Sami Zayn, who was stretching and apologized. He said he couldn’t believe it happened two weeks in a row. He said he wanted to apologize for interrupting them last week. He said he liked their message. Sami started to quote the Huey Lewis & The News song when his music played and he headed to the ring. Mike went for a kiss, but Maria declined. Mike said she was right, the moment was ruined… [C]
[Q8] Phillips hyped Naomi, Mike and Maria, and the winner of the battle royal for Talking Smack… Most of the battle royal entrants were already in the ring and Dolph Ziggler received a partially televised entrance. AJ Styles made his entrance…
4. Independence Day Battle Royal for a U.S. Championship match at WWE Battleground. Kevin Owens sat in on commentary. The entrants included Styles, The Ascension, Breezango, Jason Jordan, Hype Bros, Dillinger, Erick Rowan, Ziggler, Luke Harper, Sin Cara, and Epico. Breezango were still wearing their costumes from earlier. Ziggler was the first man eliminated thanks to a big boot from Harper. [C]
Rowan eliminated Fandango. He tossed Breeze over the top rope and onto the apron. Breeze leapt into the arms of Fandango, who caught him for a pop. Fandango put him back inside the ring, but Rowan eliminated him. Rowan also eliminated Sin Cara. Harper eliminated Konner, then Rawley eliminated Harper.
Rawley turned and then he and Ryder decided to square off. They exchanged shoves, but Rowan fought with them. The Hype Bros ended up eliminating Rowan. Rawley followed up by tossing Ryder over the top rope to eliminate him. Ryder looked shocked. Owens called Rawley a snake. Zayn eliminated Rawley with a Helluva Kick.
The match came down to Styles, Zayn, and Dillinger. Owens pointed out that two of the three remaining were Canadian. Dillinger tried to eliminate both opponents at once, but they both held on. Zayn eventually backdropped Dillinger to ringside to eliminate him, leaving Zayn and Styles as the final two.
Zayn was on the apron and tried to suplex Styles over the ropes, but Styles caught him with a knee to the head. Styles followed up with a Pele Kick that knocked Zayn off the apron, giving Styles the win. Afterward, Owens attacked Styles. AJ started to fight back, so Owens left the ring without the title belt. Styles raised the U.S. Championship over his head while Owens seethed at ringside to close the show…
AJ Styles won a battle royal in 11:15 to earn a U.S. Championship match at WWE Battleground.
Powell’s POV: I temporarily listed Nakamura as being in the battle royal, but that was not the case. I was hoping we would get another Styles and Nakamura teaser similar to the one we had at Money in the Bank, but no such luck. Styles going over felt like a forgone conclusion. Perhaps my favorite moment of the final segment was Owens telling Phillips not to talk about his new DVD because it makes it seem less cool. Overall, a missable show for those who enjoyed the holiday, yet mildly entertaining for those who watched the show. I will be by on Wednesday with my All Access audio review of this show. Enjoy the rest of the holiday.