Hello there, chaps and chapettes. We’re a few days past SummerSlam: a show with a couple of matches to recommend it crowning a pile of very, very dubious choices. Questions have been raised, and perhaps we’ll be given some answers. Perhaps these answers will even make sense. Perhaps the world is flat and carried by four elephants standing on the shell of a giant turtle. Anything’s possible and we have everything to fear.
The show begins with a wee look back at Shane McMahon: the Dick Van Dyke of referees with just a dash of Buster Keaton and a metric fucktonne of Earl Hebner. The video really does make it seem like Shane’s shove contributed heavily to Kevin Owens’ loss, because WWE is not a democracy: WWE is your God and it tells you what to believe.
I get the feeling Owens wasn’t expecting Styles to agree
In the arena, AJ Styles arrives with his shiny shiny belt in tow. His shirt also has the American flag on it, lest any man dare doubt his patriotism. He listens to the crowd chant his name for a moment, then welcomes us to the House That AJ Styles Built: definitely a better house than Bray Wyatt’s House of Horrors. Styles tells us all that he’s the workhorse of this company and is reinstating his Open Challenge with the first match starting now. And none for Kevin Owens, bye.
Kevin Owens comes out, and if you’re surprised by this then welcome to your first SmackDown. Styles tells Owens that they’re in danger of arc fatigue; he beat KO on Sunday and he can’t understand why Owens is so obsessed with him. Big Kev starts drawing parallels between SummerSlam and the Montreal Screwjob, having enrolled in Wrestling Symbolism and Parallels 101 over the weekend.
Shane then arrives, as all McMahons must when the words “Montreal Screwjob” are uttered into a microphone. He says that he can tell Owens is upset, but he called the match right down the middle, all the while getting the shit kicked, shoved and 450’d out of him. KO mocks his inability to fight off the deathly weakness suffered by any man who dons a referee’s shirt, and the fact that he pushed Owens like a big bully. But what’s he’s mad about is Shane disallowing the pin when Styles’ foot was on the ropes.
Owens points out that Shane counted to three and then changed the call. McMahon, aware that the rules and traditions regarding pins and decisions have been abused so much over the decades that even trying to read them will ravage the mind of man past the point of sanity, says that it’s all good. Owens descends into just demanding the US Championship, and I’d mock him if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s at least going to get him another title shot because WWE is, at its cold dead heart, a whinerocracy.
AJ Styles is fed the fuck up with this and tells Shane to just give Owens the match. Damn it, Styles: just let us have an Open fucking Challenge. Oh, but this isn’t good enough for Owens, and he wants his own special guest referee. AJ and Shane, for some reason, are absolutely fine with this. Is Kevin Owens’ dying? Is this his Make-A-Wish? Is the referee going to be John Cena?
Daniel Bryan just doesn’t understand the struggle
Meanwhile, Daniel Bryan is backstage pretending to be on the phone to someone. The Singh Brothers arrive, applauding Bryan for his thespian skill. I thought for a second that they’ve been pulled into the D-Man’s office to be told that their whore shirts are unprofessional and are making them a distraction, but they’ve also brought Jinder Mahal with them, who thanks D-Bry for treating a brown-skinned man with genuine human decency.
Bryan says that Jinder Mahal has never won a match without outside interference, and Jinder pulls a 180 on his friendly tone and instead reverts to calling Bryan a racist. Bryan makes a match for the Singh Brothers to face Nakamura tonight, because Shinsuke Nakamura can only be appeased by murdering jobbers and if Bryan can’t wrestle then he needs to at least watch someone die.
Kevin Owens: a portrait
Kevin Owens is walking around backstage, increasingly aware that he has no idea who to make be the special guest referee and that everyone hates him. What, you think he’d thought that he was going to be granted that stipulation? He was just being Kevin Owens, but suddenly everyone took him seriously and granted his request. You know what this is? This is AJ Styles’ horrible way of proving that KO has no friends. AJ Styles has pretty much tricked Owens into bullying himself. Sounds like someone needs to Be a STAR.
Case in point: the first person that Owens approaches is Sami Zayn, because he occasionally remembers moments of not violently assaulting Sami and that’s essentially friendship, right? Zayn listens to Owens’ spiel and request in horrified fascination, as he realises that the man he’s dedicated so much time to despising and fighting doesn’t even know what friendship is. Sami Zayn was the winner before he even laid a hand on Owens, and all of the destruction and devastation from that point on has been for nothing.
Oh good: Aiden English is in the ring. I can watch wrestling in my apartment without caring if my flatmate wanders in, but I have to fast-forward this asshole out of sheer embarrassment. The lights cut off halfway through English’s performance…and it’s only fucking Bobby Roode.
Well, this just got a thousand times better.
Aiden English, sensing his relevance slipping away with every second Bobby Roode exists, tries to out-showman Roode and gets clotheslined into a commercial for his trouble. When we come back, English has apparently regained control momentarily before Roode drives him into the corner and starts beating his ass. English takes an atomic drop that’ll probably help him reach those really high notes, then is knocked down by a flying Roode.
Bobby ascends to the second rope, hitting a blockbuster and getting English up on his shoulders. The Artiste slides out of the hold and hits the Director’s Cut, with Roode only just getting his shoulder up. A dive by English from the top rope misses, and he’s planted by a spinebuster and eats a Glorious DDT as Bobby Roode earns his first SmackDown Live win.
I’m impressed from what I’ve seen of Roode thus far, and I’m looking forward to a good back-and-forth match against a solid talent on this show. Crowd were super-pumped for him. 2 Stars.
Renee Young is in the ring and asks Bobby Roode what’s up. He says that he wants to congratulate Bryan and Shane on being smart enough to hire him, and promises that he’s going to make this place GLORIOUS.
I’m half-expecting CM Punk to be signed to SmackDown at this rate
Now Daniel Bryan’s pretending to text somebody. When will the madness end? Chad Gable shows up, and it turns out that Bryan wanted to sympathise with him about losing his tag team partner. Gable’s getting a little bit sick of everyone treating him like a drug-free Marty Janetty, but Bryan tells him that he found a new friend for Gable to play with so he doesn’t have to be lonely. Oh holy fuck: it’s Shelton Benjamin. The fuck is going on tonight?
I’m probably going to cry by the end of this
And Kevin Owens is wandering around, looking for someone else who fits his own definition of “FRIEND”. Ah, no: it’s Sami Zayn again. Are we supposed to be feeling sorry for Kevin Owens during all of this? Because this is like watching a robot realising it lacks the capacity to love.
Kevin has even found Sami Zayn a referee’s shirt, because they’re FRIENDS and FRIENDS like to to play dress-up. Sami tells Owens that he’s thought about it, but that he needs to build a life for himself without Kevin Owens and he can’t re-enter this cycle of abuse. He gives Kevin Owens back the shirt and leaves, and I can’t tell whether this is a heartbreaking movie about KO realising for the first time that he lacks basic human emotions or a heartwarming movie about Sami Zayn winning his freedom from an abusive partner.
Humans don’t tend to be the same colour as Zack Ryder
Time to “get hype”, whatever on earth that means. Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley are in action tonight, with their dumb beards and their weird energy. They’re facing the Usos tonight as Daniel Bryan sentences jobbers to painful deaths left and right. James Ellsworth had better keep his creepy head down.
Here are the Usos, who at this stage need to travel back in time to find tag teams to beat, because they’re running out of challengers here. Mojo starts off against Jey, who has to stop and react to Rawley’s strange and inhuman movements. This moment of wondering just what the fuck is all the time Mojo needs, and he pounces on the Uso. The Uso is slammed on the mat and labelled “ain’t hype”: a capital offence in Mojo Rawley’s insane world.
Jimmy Uso provides a distraction and the champs seize the advantage: putting the boots to Mojo. Rapid tags keep Rawley down and also make it impossible to keep track of which brother is in the ring. That’s right: we’re playing Schrödinger’s Uso. Mojo tries to break out of hold applied by, in theory, both Jimmy and Jey, and manages to tag in Zack Ryder.
Ryder hits clotheslines and a facebuster, assaulting Jimmy until Jey drags him out of the ring. Mojo hits the pair like a tonne of bricks, if a tonne of bricks could hurl itself at someone super-fucking-fast, but Jimmy manages to catch him with a superkick to halt his crazed momentum. He takes a pair of spray-tanned feet to the face, courtesy of Ryder, who brings the champ back into the ring and ascends to the second turnbuckle.
Jey provides a distraction, and Jimmy drags Ryder to the mat, superkicking his goatee off for the win.
No real suspense over this result. Wonder who the next challengers are going to be. 2.5 Stars.
Apparently the Usos are wondering the same thing. They’ve got microphones, and I’d better not hear one damn stanza of rap. But they want to send a message to the Tag Team division, and that message is: bring it, bitches, because you’re not good enough.
The Passion of the Singh Brothers
Here’s Shinsuke Nakamura, ready to commit murder on live television. It was only a matter of time; that Cena botch only gave him a taste for it. The Singh Brothers actually show up for the match, which is both brave and suicidally stupid. Jinder Mahal’s also here, and while I suppose it’s just possible that he might try to save his small and helpless friends, that would go against literally everything wrestling has taught me about villains.
Apparently the Singh Brothers have the advantage of not having to tag in or out of the match, in much the same way that me facing a tiger whilst armed with a dildo would be an advantage over fighting it unarmed. I don’t know if the words “tiger” and “dildo” suggested themselves to me due to what I believe the content of this match will be, but I wouldn’t not be super-surprised.
Nakamura starts off with quick strikes to both Singhs, who scurry over to ask Mahal for advice. Jinder whispers that they should do steroids and work out for months, and the Singhs get up and approach Nakamura again. He is able to batter them both away without much issue, hitting Good Vibrations to the pair of them, and even hits a double knee to the gut with both of them draped over the turnbuckle.
He throws them out of the ring, because Nakamura didn’t come here to just hit a Kinshasa and win; he came here to take lives. Jinder distracts Shinsuke by staring at him intensely, and this allows both Singh Brothers to jump Nakamura. Dear God: actual offence. The Singhs hit jobber strikes for a few moments, and then Nakamura kicks one in the face and forces the other to tap out with a Triangle Choke.
I’m actually surprised the Singhs got any licks in, but good for them. This should have been way more merciless than amusing; inject some actual emotion into the WWE Championship picture. 1.5 Stars.
Jinder jumps Nakamura after the match, knocking him to the canvas. This seems to irritate Shinsuke, and he lays the champ out with the Kinshasa.
Why, then, belike we must sin, and so consequently die
Ah Christ, it’s time for the Lifetime movie about Kevin Owens again. I cry whenever I watch Mary Poppins; I’m about to fucking bawl thanks to this.
Owens manages to accidentally run into the Fashion Police, who offer their services to be special guest referees. Owens stares at them for a moment, stunned that not one but two of his fellow men have offered him his assistance: an instance of altruism and agape completely alien to one such as him.
But then, like a Greek tragedy, Kevin Owens’ entire existence has been geared towards this: it is his hamartia. Because he’s Kevin Owens, he screams at Breezango, driving away any form of companionship or aid because he knows no other way to be. KO is a Byronic villain in a children’s cartoon: an Homeric character in a Punch and Judy show. Owens actually realises his own fatal flaw at this moment and even calls Breezango back!
And then a tattooed paw drops onto his shoulder. Oh, holy fuck: I couldn’t have written this better myself. It’s Baron Corbin: demonic prince of the wrestling world, here to drag Kevin Owens away from any self-reflection or chance of changing his character. Baron Corbin is wrestling’s very own Satan and Kevin Owens is his Doctor Faustus.
Corbin doesn’t even dress up his Monkey’s Paw offer in any kind of niceties: he outright says he’ll be the referee as long as he gets a US Championship match if Owens wins. Owens, faced between the hard, steep road to bettering himself and learning some humility and the dark, deep decline at the bottom of which Baron Corbin lurks, hands the referee’s shirt over to the Lone Wolf.
Fuck anyone who says that wrestling is a dumb waste of time: that right there was the most incredible, morality-based drama I’ve seen in months. This is why I fucking review WWE shows.
More paranoia and suspicion than Breaking Bad
Here’s the new SmackDown Women’s Champ: Natalya Neidhart. She beat Naomi clean on Sunday, making the former Champion tap out after a single mistake.
Natalya proudly touts how she unplugged the glow, and proved on Sunday that she’s the Best There Is, the Best There Was and the Best That Ever Will Be. She says that she’s what a real Champion looks like: this is her time.
Carmella and Ellsworth make their entrance, and Carmella immediately tries to sow paranoia in Natalya’s mind. If she hits her in the face with the briefcase now and cashes in, then Carmella is my favourite wrestler ever. She claims that she let Natalya have her moment, but one of these days she’s cashing in.
Ellsworth then gives away the apparent plan going into this match: let Natty get beat up, not tag in and then cash in. Carmella looks pissed off, but considering how many opportunities she’s going to have to win the belt, may as well let Natalya stew for a little while.
Becky and Naomi arrive, both looking to avenge recent losses to Natalya and just happy to have the opportunity to punch Carmella in the face. Naomi starts off against Carmella, who dodges around her in an almost Rawley-esque way before tagging Natalya in. Naomi and the champ lock up…as we go to a break. Buy SummerSlam, you cheapskates!
When we come back, Becky’s come into the match so we don’t see any of Naomi vs. Natalya. Lynch is getting stomped by the new Women’s Champion, who then wrestles her to the mat with a sleeper hold. Becky fights her way out before running right into a Discus Clothesline: no-one ever accused the Irish of being strategic thinkers. Natalya continues to punish Becky as Carmella stays out of “getting tagged in” range. Nat takes a moment to get freaked out by this, allowing Becky to roll her up and then nail her with an enzuigiri.
Natalya prevents Becky from fighting in, not letting her build up any momentum. Her constant worry about Carmella, however, allows Becky to tag out and for Naomi to almost lock her into the Slay-O-Mission. Natalya breaks out, is unable to apply the Sharphooter, and kicks Naomi away from her. She’s able to sneak up on Carmella, tagging her in and forcing her to take part.
Carmella eats a Bexploder and a split-legged moonsault to lose, and Natalya survives to day three of her championship reign.
I loved the intrigue here, even though the cash-in was unlikely after all of the discussion of it. 2.5 Stars.
Dancy is backstage with Dolph Ziggler, who I’m ashamed to admit I did not realise had been absent. Dancy asks him what they can expect of him other than disappointing failure. Ziggler mocks the lack of pageantry surrounding his return, and then rips apart the performance aspect of WWE when he’s overlooked despite being a great wrestler.
Okay, AJ Styles and Kevin Owens have been trading the US Championship back and forth for a couple of months, Dolph, and you’re full of shit.
Rusev should be a little worried about Lana
Lana and Tamina are once again using a locker room to a have a heart-to-heart. Lana promises that next week she’ll ravish Tamina, which would definitely be worth paying the Network subscription to watch. This week, she gets Tamina to close her eyes and realise that human connection and emotion is all horrifying and painful and is only of use as fuel for a terrible, world-ending fury.
There are a lot of WWE employees who could probably use some therapy right now. This is what happens when your business includes “so many blows to the head” as a core concept.
The rest is silence
Pre-match, AJ Styles is walking around backstage, and Baron Corbin arrives to offer to sell out Kevin Owens because he’s Wrestling Satan. Styles explains the concept of an Open Challenge to Corbin, who smiles enigmatically (or would if Baron Corbin knew the meaning of the word “enigmatically”) and heads out to the ring. Time to see if anyone who wears the referee shirt is afflicted with muscles like wet toilet paper and bones like glass rods.
Kevin Owens arrives next, ready for Paris’ arrow to stab through his heel, to fuck his own mother and to have his soul dragged off to hell by demons. Perhaps sticking to his guns and remaining Kevin Owens is just as heroic as it is tragic. Perhaps the real fight here is Owens vs. Styles but rather Owens vs. Owens. Perhaps this PhD is leading me to expect far more substance from professional wrestling.
AJ Styles arrives, and for a moment Owens is placed between his two futures: the competitive and adored Styles and the despised Corbin who revels in his own dark depravity. Chilling. Poetic. Possibly bullshit.
Corbin raises the belt and calls for the bell, making him a pretty decent referee so far. Owens dashes out of the ring, seeking to infuriate Styles. AJ is distracted briefly by Corbin, and Owens immediately goes on the attack. Baron actually employs the five count, surprising everyone, and Owens eventually runs into a dropkick. He rolls out of the ring and a forearm from Styles lays him right out.
Back from a commercial break, we return to Kevin Owens’ inner struggle. He’s regained control of the match, holding Styles in a sleeper. AJ breaks out and knocks Owens out of the ring with a Pele Kick. The challenger ducks a kick from Styles on the outside, trips the champ up on the apron and hits a fallaway slam to Styles into the barricade, causing JBL to chuckle like your grandpa reminiscing on racism.
Back in the ring, Owens latches on another sleeper hold, trying to wear Styles down. A knee knocks the champion to the mat, and Owens applies the sleeper once again. AJ tries to reach the ropes with his feet but is dragged away. Styles suddenly explodes with a facebuster, definitively breaking up the sleeper hold and caving in Owens’ face at the same time.
Styles counters Owens’ blows with his own, hitting a flurry and a big clothesline to his opponent before busting out the fireman’s carry neckbreaker to get two. Corbin pretending to be a mild-mannered referee is like watching a serial killer try and fool his next victim. A dispute over a count allows Owens to dump Styles onto the apron. Phenomenal Forearm misses, but Owens gets bamboozled into the Calf Crusher!
Baron watches with interest, thoroughly enjoying both his referee cosplay and the sound of Owens’ bones cracking (Baron Corbin has super good hearing). Owens is doing anything he can not to tap, having bet any and all redemption on winning this match. But Styles rolls Corbin back into the centre, dragging Owens’ soul further into despair. Suddenly, Baron is breaking up the hold; he says that Owens touched the rope. Styles disputes that KO had to hold it, and JBL is apparently not going to offer any final wisdom on this one because if it’s not a clothesline or a powerbomb then it’s a move for girls and submission manoeuvres may as well be a written admission of rampant homosexuality.
Owens shoves Styles into Corbin, and there’s probably some sort of metaphor or symbolism to that, but fuck off; I’m watching wrestling. Corbin is outraged by this and shoves Styles into a roll-up. Styles kicks out, but confronts Baron rather than attending to Owens. Owens rolls Styles up again, because he’ll not be expecting it this time, and AJ kicks out again. Both men clothesline each other, and Baron alone is left standing and ruminating on how often that seems to happen.
Suddenly Shane McMahon is running out to the ring, because how dare Baron Corbin have a man slightly shoved into him and not be checked into the nearest medical institution? Does he not know what that striped shirt stands for? Does he plan on spitting on the legacy of every wuss and weakling who’s ever been knocked out by Triple H? Baron Corbin tells Shane that he’s their God now and he’ll rip their reality in twain if it means he gets any kind of title shot of it.
Meanwhile, Styles gets hit by a low blow; Corbin makes the count and Shane drags Baron Corbin out of the ring! Heresy! Insanity! Corbin takes his shirt off! He gives it to Shane! He is the laziest Satan ever! Owens runs out of the ring, screaming at the man he sold his soul to to get the fuck back here and honour their Faustian Bargain! Shane puts on the referee’s shirt as Kevin Owens world crashes down around him.
Owens immediately goes for Styles, gets hung up on the ropes and eats a Phenomenal Forearm! Styles is still the United States Champion!
This was really fun: there was tension all of the way through, plus Owens and Styles are always good for a solid match. Corbin walking away was hilarious; this guy’s motivation doesn’t sustain him for ten minutes. 3 Stars.
As AJ Styles celebrates, Kevin Owens looks on in shock. He has no United States Championship. He has no friends. He has no redemption left to him. He sold his soul to Baron Corbin and the Lone Wolf couldn’t even be bothered to collect it.
Kevin Owens is a modern American tragedy.
The Good: mostly decent matches here. More about showcasing and advancing storylines than performance, but nothing that was a chore to watch. Kevin Owens stole the whole show here, and that final bout was definitely the match of the night. Shelton Benjamin, Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler getting welcomed on the same show is also extremely exciting.
The Bad: aside from the main event, nothing really stood out. It feels like we were taking a collective breath after SummerSlam and I’m looking forward to see what direction we’re taking everything in from here. Tonight gets 7/10.
Tags: aiden english, AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, Bobby Roode, byron saxton, Carmella, Chad Gable, Daniel Bryan, jbl, Jinder Mahal, John Cena, Kevin Owens, naomi, Natalya, Shane McMahon, shelton benjamin, shinsuke nakamura, smackdown live, The New Day, The Singh Brothers, the usos, Tom Phillips, WWE