SmackDown kicks off with Paige in some undisclosed location backstage, presumably still grappling with her brand’s inability to win a single briefcase: indeed, SmackDown’s sole victory of RAW was Paige being a snarky bitch to Constable Corbin backstage. So she moves on from Money in the Bank super-quickly: we’re all about Extreme Rules now, and tonight is about finding a suitable opponent for AJ Styles without resorting to either a pentagram and someone selling their soul to hell or calling the Great Khali. This shall be done through a Gauntlet Match, where the winner is the superstar who can gather all six infinity stones and use their power to claim a title match.
Chinners and losers
In the main arena, Carmella is here for the traditional post-defense gloat, having recently joined Alexa Bliss in the group of women who have pissed off someone who is going to murder them in the very near future. She dances out to the stage and then gets real vulnerable with us: she says that when she was a kid she had self-confidence issues, but she didn’t let that hold her back, but pushed herself to become a total bitch and, I guess, the Women’s Champion. It’s all a big prank and she actually claims she’s always been hugely confident in herself, which is not the sort of mental health I’d diagnose in someone who was once in a relationship with Big Cass.
Carmella claims that she managed to beat Asuka all by herself, and it’s difficult to say whether this is the usual heel self-adulation or if it’s WWE’s usual history re-writing in play. Asuka’s music hits, and it could not more clearly be James Ellsworth under those robes again. If nothing else, it seems like Asuka could at least raise this whole issue of men stealing her clothes with HR.
Ellsworth says “No-one was ready for Ellsworth”, which is both brave and beautiful, and he announces that he’s back to serve Carmella, who is apparently the greatest woman in history. This seems way more attainable considering the women whom Ellsworth lists are mostly WWE alumni, Beyonce and Mother Theresa: honest to God. And now Asuka shows up to demand that Ellsworth get his dick and/or balls out of her robe so that she can burn it.
Ellsworth gets in Asuka’s face, because there’s one man in WWE whose reaction when confronted with a violent woman is not “let them hit me”; unfortunately his intentions really aren’t going to make all that much difference right now. Asuka yells at him for a bit, then realises he doesn’t speak Japanese and so kicks him. Carmella catches Asuka with a superkick in what you could probably call a “blindside” if the person you performed it on was legally blind. Asuka’s left laying as Triple H stares blankly at what Vince is doing to every great thing he’s ever made.
We see Becky backstage as the commentators pile in to talk about her godawful win-loss record to the point you wonder if they’re trying to bully her into killing herself. She’s facing Billie Kay tonight: totally as good as winning the Money in the Bank contract.
How many suicide notes are Billie and Peyton named in?
Billie and Peyton come to the ring and then run down whatever town they’re before seguing seamlessly into mocking Becky Lynch for being written as a failure by WWE. I’d say that at least she’s made Charlotte tap out twice on this show, but that means way less now that Carmella beat Flair clean at Backlash.
Becky arrives with the face of one who’s going to kill something tonight, and it might as well be an IIconic. She tackles Billie and starts smacking the shit out of her before hurling her across the ring with a Bexploder. Kay rolls out of the ring, but Becky was watching AJ and Nakamura’s match on Sunday and has some ideas. A distraction from Peyton allows Billie to gain the advantage, because God forbid this not be a back-and-forth event.
After a break, Becky rebounds off the ropes into a punch, followed by Peyton booting Becky in the mush. Lynch finally frees herself Billie’s clutches, hitting a flying shoulder tackle before rattling Kay with clotheslines. Billie is thrown by Becky again, getting a pin for two, but manages to elevate Becky over the top rope. Lynch regains control, tossing Billie out of the ring and hurling herself onto Peyton.
Back in the ring, Becky counters a suplex attempt into a Disarmer, forcing the tap from Billie.
It’s nice to see that Becky’s allowed to win when no Championships or stakes are involved. 2 Stars.
Jeff Hardy is backstage, wearing facepaint and not looking at the camera, so take your best guess at whatever he’s on right now. He talks about the injury he received from Shinsuke, which apparently has made him stronger than ever. Who the fuck knows what this guy’s talking about?
And in another part of backstage, SAnitY are standing around and laughing at their own shadows. Looks like Jeff’s being pretty generous with his stash.
Meanwhile, Renee Young is backstage with Daniel Bryan, thanking him for his part in Big Cass’ retirement. Apparently he’s first up in the Gauntlet Match, but he says that he’s not that worried about it and throws some shade at the Miz while he’s at it. The efficiency of this man astounds me.
Harper and Rowan just went full mast
Here come the Usos, who jobbed to the Bludgeon Brothers a couple of times and got a taste for it, so now they’re here to job to SAnitY. They talk about SAnitY wanting to make a name for themselves and reminisce about trying to do the same thing when they debuted, but say it’s going to take a lot more than that to hang with the Usos.
SAnitY arrive, and a brawl immediately breaks out. The Usos are quickly overwhelmed, with Young and Wolfe holding down Jey as Dain takes out Jimmy. Within moments, the Usos have been put down and SAnitY stands tall. Quick, violent and memorable: that’s what I call a solid debut. Come and fucking get some, Bludgeon Brothers.
Backstage, Shinsuke has requested an interview to explain his loss on Sunday. He says that the referee counted far too fast and didn’t make the count in Japanese, and Renee immediately brings up Jeff Hardy to prevent another AJ/Nakamura match: that’s doing your damn job, Renee. Shinsuke is dismissive of Hardy, promising to hurt him again if necessary.
That match was too sweet
Gallows and Anderson arrive for a second Championship loss inside a week. The Bludgeon Brothers follow, and the match starts during the break. When we come back, Rowan is going to work on Gallows, but runs into a big boot. Gallows hits a combination to Rowan, low-bridging Harper out of the ring to follow it up. Harper takes Anderson out on the outside, and Rowan levels Gallows with a spinning kick.
From the top rope, Gallows is taken out with a superplex. Anderson makes the save, but the Bludgeon Brothers ensure that he suffers for it on the outside. A splash from Rowan to Gallows gets two, and Harper enters the match to beat on him a little. Rowan tags back in and manages to shut down a comeback attempt from Gallows.
Finally a boot from Gallows decks Rowan off the apron, and a bunch of kicks send Harper for a loop! Anderson tags in, hitting a crossbody and a spinebuster to Harper! Rowan catches him, but Anderson sends him out of the ring. Harper slams Anderson, but the smaller man kicks out! Harper can’t believe it! The audience have a Too Sweet chant going; Gallows takes Rowan off the apron and gets booted into the timekeeper’s area; Anderson rolls up Harper and almost wins the Championships!
Harper misses a Discus Clothesline but manages to tag in Rowan for a double team. The Bludgeon Brothers retain.
Way better than I thought that was going to be: Anderson’s hope spot was everything I love about wrestling and seriously drew me in. 3 Stars.
It’s Rusev Day
Bryan’s music hits as the Bludgeon Brothers are leaving, causing them to immediately pick up their hammers: wise move. Bryan arrives, and there’s a tense moment between the three of them before Bryan throws up the Wyatt Family salute and the Bludgeon Brothers realise they don’t want to do a singles feud whilst actually being the Tag Team Champions.
Looks like Bryan’s first opponent is Big E. E and the New Day dance down to the ring, and the two men circle each other before locking up. Bryan goes for a headlock, which Big E powers out of with little difficulty. Big E goes for a test of strength, easily dominating Bryan before the smaller man tries to go for a grapple; once again, Big E’s power allows him to take control.
Bryan finally manages to put Big E down, and locks his feet before latching on a dragon sleeper. Big E punches his way clear, but Bryan immediately starts working over his left elbow, keeping him down. E finally manages to gain some separation off a belly-to-belly, then hits a huge splash to Bryan on the apron. After a break, Bryan flies off the top for a headbutt, but Big E manages to avoid contact and cover Bryan for two. Bryan stays in the fight, managing a clothesline which knocks Big E down.
E gets sent into the turnbuckle by a drop toehold, and Bryan goes to work on him with the kicks before hitting a hurricanrana to take the New Day member off the top turnbuckle! Flying dropkicks connect, but Big E suddenly explodes out of the corner, taking Bryan out before hitting a huge backbreaker for two! Big E stays on Bryan, applying a stretch muffler, but Bryan suddenly counters into a Yes Lock attempt! Big E tries to power out, and suddenly gets locked in a triangle choke! Big E goes for a powerbomb, but Bryan latches onto his leg, rocking the knee off the canvas!
Big E swats Bryan away, but the former Champion avoids further contact with a backflip out of the corner, only to be caught with a spear from Big E which takes them both to the ground! Back in the ring, Big E wants the Big Ending, but Bryan sends him into the ring post before hitting the running knee! Bryan wins!
Oh shit, son: it’s Samoa Joe’clock. There’s a break, and when we return Joe is having a chop-off with Bryan. Bryan tries to run off the ropes, but Joe clamps on the Clutch, only for Bryan to send him tumbling out of the ring! Bryan follows that up with a glancing knee to the head off the apron, then a missile dropkick inside the ring. The crowd’s behind Bryan as he kicks Joe in the chest again and again, only for Samoa Joe to catch the last one…and eat an enzuigiri right in his fucking face. Bryan goes for the knee; Joe rolls out of the ring; Bryan tries to follow and Joe clamps on the clutch on the outside! Joe wants to choke Bryan out to take the count-out victory, but Bryan manages to roll out of the clutch, dash back into the ring and beat the count, with Joe getting counted out in his place!
Joe’s look of innocent, wounded surprise is everything right now. He didn’t even fuck Bryan up afterwards.
Oops, here come the Bludgeon Brothers to ruin Bryan’s day. Guess they’d rather fight anyone but SAnitY for the next couple of months. They powerbomb Bryan, which does make it seem like part of this is in response to Daniel having a staredown with them. Miz rushes into the ring, hitting the SCF to eliminate Bryan and get some real fucking heat. Meanwhile, I assume Bryan and Orton will join forces as two men who have both gone to war with the Wyatt Family.
Rusev makes his way towards the ring as we head to a commercial break, and when we return Rusev is in full control. Miz manages to catch Rusev with a headlock, but a clothesline attempt sees him caught and hit with a fallaway slam across the ring. Miz low-bridges Rusev out of the ring before hitting him through the ropes with a pair of boots. The Miz works over Rusev on the outside before hitting a boot to the face back in the ring, then clamps on a hold.
Rusev tries to break out before the Miz quells his fight with a backbreaker/neckbreaker combination. A clothesline into the corner drops Rusev, followed by a flying axe-handle for a count of two. Miz locks in a sleeper hold, keeping Rusev grounded to negate the larger man’s strength. Rusev finally breaks out and boots Miz away from him, and the two have a slugfest which ends with Rusev trying to kick the Miz’s head off his shoulders. A spinning kick lays the Miz out, and Rusev wants the Machka Kick. The Miz dodges, goes for the Skull-Crushing Finale, but Rusev breaks out! The Miz eats a roundhouse kick which almost nets Rusev the win, and rolls out of the ring. Rusev follows, but the Miz was playing possum, using the ropes, barricade and steps to regain the advantage.
The Yes Kicks strike; Rusev almost manages to apply the Accolade, but the Miz counters with a DDT for two! The Miz stalks Rusev, going for the Running Knee, but runs right into the Machka Kick! The Accolade is applied! Miz taps! It’s Rusev Day!
This gauntlet match managed to do a lot for everyone involved: Bryan looked like a badass and got a brand new feud; Big E made it clear he could have a hell of a singles run; Samoa Joe didn’t get to do much, but wasn’t definitively beaten; the Miz got a lot of heat and almost beat Rusev, and Rusev of course got a title shot and a major pop. Really well put-together. 3.5 Stars.
AJ Styles makes his presence felt, heading out to go eye-to-eye with Rusev. He puts the belt between the two of them as both men stare each other down before shaking hands. Aiden English demands a handshake, then punks Styles out like a stone-cold badass. Styles, who’s had a hell of a week, decks him to finish the show.
Tags: AJ Styles, Asuka, Big E, Bludgeon Brothers, Carmella, Gallows and Anderson, James Ellsworth, Jeff Hardy, Paige, rusev, Samoa Joe, Sanity, shinsuke nakamura, smackdown live, The Miz, the usos, WWE