By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Friday Night Smackdown (Episode 1,143)
Live from Houston, Texas at Toyota Center
Aired July 16, 2021 on Fox
[Hour One] Smackdown opened with the “return of fans” video that WWE released earlier this week via Vince McMahon’s Twitter page…
A wide shot of the arena aired while Michael Cole noted that it was the first time in 70 weeks that fans were back in attendance for Smackdown. He noted that it was a sold out crowd with over 14,000 fans in attendance. Cole was joined on commentary by Pat McAfee…
Vince McMahon’s music played and he strutted onto the new stage to a big ovation while the crowd sang along with his entrance theme. “Where the hell have you been?” Vince asked. Vince turned around and walked backstage…
Powell’s POV: A truly uplifting and inspirational speech that moved everyone who witnessed it. Or something like that.
Roman Reigns made his entrance as his enhanced CGI graphic appeared. Reigns, who was accompanied by Paul Heyman, stopped on the stage and raised the WWE Universal Title belt over his head before handing it to Heyman and walking to the ring. Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso joined Reigns and Heyman in the ring.
Rey Mysterio and Dominik Mysterio made their entrance followed by Edge. Greg Hamilton was the ring announcer. A CGI screen appeared over the crowd and showed images of Edge choking out each of his opponents with a broken chair piece. Cole hyped the match as coming up after the first commercial break… [C]
Powell’s POV: Fans!!! Edge received a mega pop. While one can only hope that everyone at this show and future shows will be safe, it’s absolutely wonderful to have fans back in the building. For so many reasons, here’s hoping we never see the ThunderDome set again.
1. WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns, Jimmy Uso, and Jey Uso (w/Paul Heyman) vs. Edge and Smackdown Tag Champions Rey Mysterio and Dominik Mysterio. Reigns and the Usos stalled at ringside while Edge waited in the ring. Jey Uso entered the ring behind Edge and attacked him to start the match.
The heel trio isolated Dominik early in the match. Reigns tagged in, dropped off the apron, and pulled Dom to the floor. Back inside the ring, Reigns suplexed Dom and covered him arrogantly for a two count. Reigns rolled Dom back to ringside and sat on the apron while rubbing his hands together, then dropped to the floor and slammed Dom’s head on the broadcast table. Reigns powerbombed Dom onto the broadcast table. [C]
Rey worked over Jey and set him up for a 619, but Reigns caught him while he was going for the kick and slammed his head onto the apron. Edge ran over and speared Reigns. Back inside the ring, Rey rolled up Jey for the pin, but he kicked out, sending Rey toward the ropes where he Jimmy hit him from the floor. Jey rolled up Rey and held his tights while scoring the pin.
Roman Reigns, Jimmy Uso, and Jey Uso defeated Edge, Rey Mysterio, and Dominik Mysterio in 9:20.
After the match, Rey protested to the referee. Jey attacked Rey and ran him into the ring post. Dom tried to help, but Jimmy attacked him. Edge entered the ring with a chair and worked over the Usos, but Reigns hit him with a Superman Punch.
Reigns broke the chair piece that Edge uses, but Edge recovered and speared him. Edge picked up the chair piece and used it while putting Reigns a Crossface, causing Reigns to tap out. Edge picked up the title belt and held it over his head before placing it on the fallen Reigns…
Cole hyped the four-way match involving the Smackdown entrants in the men’s Money in the Bank ladder match… [C]
Powell’s POV: An entertaining match that gave the Usos a win heading into their tag title shot, while the post match angle made Edge look strong going into his title shot. I saw some fans cheering for Reigns, but they couldn’t be heard over the boos. It will be interesting to monitor if the fans continue to boo Reigns or if many eventually start to side with him because he’s so dominant. Many of us have said for years that Reigns needed a heel run to become the top babyface that Vince McMahon wanted him to be. The heel run has been fantastic thus far, but I still believe it will lead to him becoming a well received top babyface someday. By the way, a local ad for the July 30 show in Minneapolis listed Reigns and the Usos vs. Rey, Dom, and a partner, which may or may not be a dark main event.
Edge was walking backstage with the Mysterios when Kayla Braxton approached him for an interview. Edge said he wished that making Reigns “tap out like a bitch” will mean his title match will be easy. Edge said he has to beat Reigns at his own game. He said the last thing he has to do in the industry is win the WWE Universal Championship.
The laughter of Seth Rollins interrupted Edge. Rollins approached Edge and said that while Reigns might be the most self absorbed and megalomaniacal person he’s ever met, Reigns has Edge’s number. Rollins said he would win the MITB ladder match and then he plans to finish what he started a couple years ago when he had his boot on Edge’s neck and didn’t pull the trigger. Rollins said he would love to cash in on the man who made the match famous. Rollins mockingly wished Edge good luck before laughing and walking away…
Sami Zayn made his entrance and said everyone is talking about the MITB ladder match, but no one is talking about how he is being excluded. Zayn said the fans returning and the new entrance set are all meant to distract viewers from the conspiracy against him. Once in the ring, Zayn encouraged the fans to chant “Justice for Sami.”
Zayn said he wasn’t surprised that the “yee-haws in Texas are not on my side.” Zayn said he doesn’t need the fans, he needs justice. Zayn said that if there was any justice, they would lower the men’s Money in the Bank briefcase that was hanging above the ring and award him the contract.
Finn Balor’s entrance theme interrupted Zayn. Balor made his entrance. Zayn welcomed Balor back and then charged him, but Balor ducked his punch and gave him an inverted DDT. Balor put Zayn down with a running dropkick in the corner and then performed his Coup de Grace finisher…
Powell’s POV: A solid return for Balor. Here’s hoping that he doesn’t have to become “Smiling Finn” again now that he’s back on the main roster.
Highlights aired of the debut of Shotzi and Nox from last week… The duo made their entrance in Shotzi’s tank. Shotzi used the tank to shoot what appeared to be a t-shirt into the crowd. Cole said they would face Natalya and Tamina after the break… An ad spotlighted Bobby Lashley vs. Kofi Kingston for the WWE Championship for the MITB event… [C]
An Apollo Crews video package aired… Natalya and Tamina made their entrance for a flat crowd reaction…
2. WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions Natalya and Tamina vs. Shotzi and (Tegan) Nox in a non-title match. Liv Morgan and Zalina Vega sat in on commentary and bickered about who would win the MITB ladder match. A fan in the front row repeatedly held up a sign that read “Cena Hates Freedom.”
In the ring, Natalya was setting up for a Sharpshooter on Nox when they were both distracted by a fight that broke out between Morgan and Vega. Nox caught Natalya in an inside cradle for the win.
Shotzi and Nox beat WWE Women’s Tag Champions Natalya and Tamina in 3:20 in a non-title match.
After the match, Tamina attacked Morgan and Vega. Morgan ended up getting the better of Tamina at ringside, then put Natalya down with her double knees finisher in the ring. Morgan pointed at the MITB briefcases above the ring…
Bianca Belair was shown walking backstage while Cole hyped the Smackdown Women’s Championship match… [C]
Powell’s POV: Morgan and Vega were really distracting on commentary, but that obviously served a purpose. The idea seems to be that Shotzi and Nox might be scoring flukey wins and still need to prove themselves. That’s all well and good as long as they eventually are booked to prove that they are worthy. By the way, Nox still has her first name based on Cole’s commentary, but Shotzi’s last name seems to be a thing of the past.
The broadcast team touted WWE being back on the road while tweets from The Rock, Steve Austin, John Cena, and others were shown celebrating the company’s return to the road…
Carmella made her entrance for the title match. A fan held up a sign that read “Carmella Wins We Riot.”
[Hour Two] Bianca Belair made her entrance to a good reaction. Cole touted Belair vs. Sasha Banks winning the Best WWE Moment at the ESPY Awards…
3. Bianca Belair vs. Carmella for the Smackdown Women’s Championship. Greg Hamilton delivered in-ring introductions for the championship match. Cole noted that there were 14,496 in attendance. Carmella threw an early slap, then ran away from Belair. Back inside the ring, Belair knocked Carmella down with a shoulder block.
Carmella pulled Belair into the ring post to go on the offensive. Carmella ran Belair into the barricade, then rolled her back inside the ring and covered her for a two count. Back at ringside, Carmella ran Belair into the barricade twice. [C]
Belir performed a back handspring splash for a near fall. Belair went up top, but Carmella cut her off and performed a huracanrana that led to a two count. Carmella applied a guillotine choke. Belair dropped to one knee while selling the hold, but then powered back to her feet and countered into a suplex. McAfee compared the suplex to the late Davey Boy Smith’s vertical suplex.
Both women went to ringside. Carmella avoided Belair’s attempt to whip her with her braid and then superkicked her. Carmella rolled Belair back inside the ring and covered her for a near fall. Carmella pulled at the braid. Belair came right back with a whip of the braid to the midsection and followed with a KOD that led to the pinfall…
Bianca Belair defeated Carmella in 11:00 to retain the Smackdown Women’s Championship.
Powell’s POV: An entertaining match. Carmella continues to impress with her improved in-ring work, and Belair is doing a fine job as the women’s champion.
Backstage, Chad Gable and Otis delivered a promo. They said they smelled fear. Cesaro showed up and said he smelled bull. Cesaro recalled Gable having a list of people that Otis would destroy. Cesaro said at least they didn’t make the mistake of having him on the list. Gable said they weren’t even thinking about him, then congratulated him on earning Otis’s full attention. Gable stepped aside and then Otis punched Cesaro in the gut and shoved him against the wall… [C]
A Toni Storm video package aired and her Smackdown debut was set for next week… Chad Gable and Otis made their entrance and then an Otis video package aired. Cesaro made his entrance and sold an abdominal injury. Cole narrated highlights of Cesaro performing the Swing on various opponents…
4. Otis (w/Chad Gable) vs. Cesaro. Otis went on the offensive to start, then Cesaro came back with some uppercuts. Gable distracted Cesaro, which led to Otis regaining control and performing a powerslam. Cesaro avoided a charging Otis, who crashed into the corner. Cesaro kicked Otis into the corner. Gable entered the ring and suplexed Cesaro for the DQ.
Cesaro defeated Otis by DQ in 1:05.
After the match, Cesaro hit Gable with an uppercut and then gave him the Swing until Otis broke it up. Otis splashed Cesaro in the corner and then performed a Vader Bomb…
Powell’s POV: The mach didn’t last long, but it was long enough for Otis to suffer a minor bloody nose or lip. The DQ finish was fine, as there was no reason for either guy to take a loss in a match that was thrown out there without a real build.
The broadcast team recapped the opening match and Edge’s backstage promo…
Kayla Braxton knocked on Roman Reigns’ locker room door. Paul Heyman came out and said she was a little aggressive with the knock. Heyman said Edge sinned against the Tribal Chief and will have those sins beaten out of him on Sunday.
Heyman started to deliver his “not a prediction” bit, but he was interrupted by Big E, who gave an over the top New Day style introduction for himself. Big E taunted Heyman by saying it looked like Edge had a hold of Reigns…
Baron Corbin made his entrance looking disheveled. The fans booed him… [C]
Powell’s POV: Big E taunting Heyman might be foreshadowing Big E becoming a thorn in the side of Reigns via the MITB contract.
A video package aired on Corbin losing the crown to Shinsuke Nakamura and how his life has spiraled out of control since then…
Corbin delivered a promo inside the ring, which was surrounded by ladders. Corbin said he lost his investments and his savings, and now the bank is threatening to foreclose on his house. The fans responded with a “What?” whenever he paused. He said his two year-old is sick because she has to eat spaghetti out of a can rather than Waygu beef.
Corbin said he had to fire his maid and if things continue the way they are going, his family would have to move in with his wife’s parents. Corbin announced that he had started a “CorbinFundMe” website with the target goal of $100,000. He encouraged fans to visit CorbinFund.com. Corbin dropped to his knees and begged the fans for help.
Kevin Owens made his entrance and entered the ring. Corbin said that Owens has influence in the locker room and people will fall in line if he and others lead the way in helping him. Corbin said he knows Owens has money. Corbin said Owens doesn’t spend money on his wardrobe. Owens kicked him and Stunned him…
Big E made his entrance for the main event and joined Owens inside the ring. [C]
Powell’s POV: Canned spaghetti?!? That poor child. While there is an actual CorbinFund.com website, there’s no grift, as there’s not a way to donate money. Well, at least not yet.
Rick Boogs played Shinsuke Nakamura to the ring. Seth Rollins made his entrance and highlights aired of him cashing into the MITB contract at WrestleMania…
4. Seth Rollins vs. Big E vs. Kevin Owens vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in a four-way. Rollins indicated that he was going to leave due to being outnumbered by babyfaces. Big E performed his spear through the ropes on Rollins, whose head appeared to hit to one of the ladders on the floor. Owens performed a flip dive onto Owens, then Nakamura performed a running knee off the apron on Owens. [C]
An ad aired for next week’s Smackdown in Cleveland with portions from the Rolling Loud festival in Miami. In the ring, Big E and Nakamura performed a double superplex on Owens. Rollins went for a frogsplash, but his target rolled out of the way. Nakamura set up for a Kinshasa on Owens, but Big E cut him off and performed the Big Ending. Big E had the pin, but Rollins broke it up.
A short time later, Owens leapt off one of the ladders at ringside and dropped an elbow on Nakamura that put him through the broadcast table. In the ring, Rollins performed a Stomp that drove Big E’s head onto another ladder that was lying on the mat. Rollins covered Big E and scored the pin.
Seth Rollins defeated Big E, Kevin Owens, and Shinsuke Nakamura in 7:40 in a four-way.
Afterward, Rollins set up a ladder and pulled down one of the MITB briefcases. Cole proclaimed that WWE is back and will be coming to Fort Worth, Texas for MITB on Sunday while also noting that the show will be available via Peacock…
Powell’s POV: Rollins going over and pulling down the briefcase probably means he won’t be winning the briefcase on Sunday unless WWE is going to break away from its usual booking pattern. Still, I like the tease for him winning, as it plays into a lot of fan suspicion that his interactions with Edge are setting up Rollins attempting to cash in during the main event. That’s not my prediction, but it is a fun scenario.
Overall, fans are back!!! What was once the norm now feels like a special treat. Let’s hope the fans are back for good. WWE delivered a strong show that featured a good final push for Money in the Bank. I will return shortly with my weekly same night audio review of Smackdown. Let me know what you thought of the show by grading it in our post show poll below.
Join me for my live reviews of Impact Wrestling Slammiversary on Saturday and WWE Money in the Bank on Sunday.