We are but five days away from Survivor Series, where RAW and SmackDown will compete in the traditional “we desperately can’t afford to halt anyone’s momentum unless they’re facing Brock Lesnar” event. And SmackDown, as a unit, is facing the uphill struggle of having to get its collective shit together, because Daniel Bryan was last seen having a massive bitch-fit and I can only assume he is still doing so right up until the second I see him acting like a rational human being.
The show immediately opens with a recap of what happened on RAW, which Tom Phillips said “no-one saw coming”. And…what? Everyone saw it coming! It happened last year! Is that why no-one saw it coming, Tom? Because it had happened once already?
Anyway, the women of SmackDown shot their “fuck you and your show” shot, with two large men unable to stop Becky Lynch from trying to injure another woman. Feminism, WWE style. I’d like to think the rest of the SmackDown locker room is super-pissed at them, as they know that RAW will now invade their show in the pursuit of vengeance. You know, like last year.
Also, Becky Lynch will now no longer be fighting Ronda due to a broken nose and a concussion. So this wasn’t just stupid in-universe, but out of it too. If you needed any other evidence that Nia ain’t winning that Women’s Championship back…well, there it is.
Paul Heyman is a Mean Girl
AJ Styles arrives, and he’s probably the only guy who doesn’t have to worry about being jumped tonight: Brock sure as hell isn’t going to come all the way to SmackDown, and it’s not like anyone from RAW is going to bother wearing him down prior to fighting, you know, Brock Lesnar.
The crowd shows their support for AJ Styles before he’s ground into a beige pesto by the Universal Champion. He addresses the fact that it’s been a year since he won the WWE Championship, and a year since he took on Brock Lesnar. He says in that year, he’s defeated every opponent he’s faced but for Lesnar. He’s grateful for the second chance, and says that he intends to make the most of the chance.
AJ is interrupted as it’s revealed that Paul Heyman is in the timekeeper’s area, berating the poor guy for not giving him a microphone. What, is he supposed to keep time and distribute microphones as well? It’s too much for one man! Styles demands that Heyman be given a microphone, because with his accent he really can’t afford to appear too antisemitic. Heyman does his usual introduction and then says that he’s here to tell Styles that there’s no-one Lesnar wants to fight more than him, because AJ Styles is the best ever, belonging in a class with Ricky Steamboat, Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels. He drops a few hints of Brock vs. Bryan, which comes out of left field and I’m too cynical to have any belief in; likely this is primarily to fuel a greater feud between Bryan and Styles later.
Styles brushes off the attempt to drive a wedge between him and someone he won’t be on the same team as come Sunday. He reminds Heyman that he took Brock to the limit, and that he’s got far better since then whilst Lesnar has got only more vulnerable. He promises that he will beat Brock Lesnar on Sunday, and then Daniel Bryan’s music hits. Bryan walks to the ring, grabbing a microphone, and says that he’s not all that sure why he’s being discussed here. He tells Styles that he respects him, but still wants to punch him in the face for mentioning his name without reason, when it was Heyman who did that.
Styles points this out, apparently trying to goad Bryan into beating up Heyman. AJ Styles then mentions Bryan’s name as a compliment, and then Daniel punches him. This whole thing is weird. The two brawl before they’re separated, and whilst I’m happy with these two fighting forever, this seems really odd so far.
Backstage, Shane and Bryan are yelling at each other as Paige tries to play peacekeeper. And then Styles storms in, wanting to murder Bryan in some chilling Jack the Ripper tribute. Shane eventually screams that the WWE Championship will be on the line tonight: well, hello, raised stakes.
Why do they have to do this to my hero?
Here’s Andrade “Cien” Almas with Zelina Vega. Graves announces that the WWE Championship match is now on, and Almas’ opponent is Jeff Hardy. Oh hell: please let Almas at least beat him; give me that, at least.
Almas jumps right in after the bell, hammering Hardy from pillar to post. Jeff is in bad shape early on, and he absorbs more punishment before stunning Andrade with a jawbreaker. Almas is thrown into the ropes and does his usual taunt with Zelina. This confuses Hardy, who has just seen one person magically become one person and also a lady. He opts to kick Almas through the ropes, which does make a great deal of sense, and we go to a commercial break.
When we return, Hardy is in control of Almas, taking it to the former NXT Champion. Almas counters a Twist of Fate, then hangs Hardy up on the ropes following a Whisper in the Wind attempt, hitting him with the double stomp for two. He goes for the knees, slamming them into Jeff’s face, then almost gets rolled up by Hardy. Almas recovers with a quick kick to the stomach, then dodges the Twist of Fate with a reverse-and-counter combination with Hardy that ends with him slamming Hardy with the back elbow. Twist of Fate strikes, then the Swanton Bomb, and once again Almas is utterly wasted.
Fine match, but why does Jeff need a victory for anything but a feel-good factor? 2.5 Stars.
Backstage, the Miz is being told that he’s now sole Captain of Team SmackDown, and he chooses to hire Jeff Hardy and kick Rey Mysterio off the team. Jesus Christ, they’re tanking this thing hard and fast. Paige demands that the Miz needs to beat Mysterio in order to toss him off the team.
RAW fucking deserve to win.
Shinsuke Nakamura gets interviewed backstage, because that always goes well. Upon being asked about Seth Rollins, Nakamura says that Seth’s too focused on Dean Ambrose, whilst Shinsuke is entirely dedicated to breaking Rollins’ face. Well, at least there’s a little emotion behind this fight.
I guess you could call this a team-building exercise
Here’s the Miz, ready to fight for the right to ruin the SmackDown team even more than adding Jeff Hardy has already accomplished. I know it sounds like I don’t like Jeff Hardy, and that’s pretty much exactly what’s going on here: he’s slow and sloppy and makes terrible decisions when it comes to whatever he snorts, inhales or injects.
We get shown the SmackDown and RAW teams during the entrances, and it’s a depressing story: Corbin, Ziggler, McIntyre, Braun and Finn can all bring a lot to this match, and Lashley will just sort of be there. Whereas the Miz and Joe are great at what they do, but Jeff Hardy is somehow boring to watch, Shane shouldn’t even be in this match and they might actually toss out Rey Mysterio. It’s like we’re being set up for RAW to pull off a clean sweep, and I’d love to say that WWE wouldn’t be stupid enough to try that out.
That being said, if they replace Rey with Almas, I’ll call it an amazing decision and say no more about it.
The Miz starts off the match by going for a bunch of a quick covers, and Rey responds with a volley of quick offence. A kick to the skull staggers Miz for a second, but he returns with a big clothesline, immediately latching onto Rey with a sleeper hold. Mysterio busts his way out, headscissoring the Miz out of the ring and hurling himself out after him, only to land across the Miz’s knees.
Back from a commercial break, the Miz is going for a superplex. Rey batters him to the canvas, hitting a seated senton and walloping Miz with a roundhouse kick. A springboard misses, allowing the Miz to fell Rey with a DDT. A sit-out powerbomb almost nets the Team Captain the victory, with Mysterio only just shooting the shoulder up. Rey ducks a kick, almost gets caught by the Skull-Crushing Finale but shoots the Miz into position for the 619. That connects, but the splash once again sees Rey land across the Miz’s knees. The Miz goes for the cover, but Rey kicks out, pinning the Miz in return.
Another solid match, with the stakes definitely adding to the contest. Glad to see Mysterio’s still on the team, because God knows we needed another exciting wrestler (cough, Shane, cough, Jeff). 2.5 Stars.
And Randy Orton then tries to jump Mysterio. Have we heard a motivation yet? After a certain point, you’d assume that the rest of the locker room would band together in self-defence and injure Orton so terribly that he couldn’t pose a threat to them. Perhaps I’m simply to Machiavellian for the wrestling world.
Randy gets beaned in the head with a kick from Rey, stumbles into the Miz and then RKOs him in the best example of “on general principle” that I have ever seen in my life. Orton’s recent characterisation has been wonderfully psychotic and psychotically wonderful.
We get shown the extra security that Paige and Shane put on the doors, just in case those guys who get paid to be in amazing shape and beat people up arrive. There’s a flaw in this plan that I’m not quite seeing, but I just know for sure that it’s there.
We get shown a preview of a show literally aimed at finding the next big country music star. I literally don’t even have it in me to be sarcastic about that; it’s just horrifying on multiple levels.
And a great match stays great
Paige is in the ring, and she says she wants to welcome every member of the SmackDown Women’s locker room to the ring. She does this individually, which is one way to eat into the time left for the WWE Championship match. This goes on for a while, punctuated by Corey knocking out a quick wank to Mandy Rose. He tells Byron “let’s enjoy this together”, which sends my mind to a terrible, sexy place.
Paige says that she’s out here because Nia Jax fucked up and now Becky Lynch can’t fight. She doesn’t literally say that, but I’m inferring it. She says that Becky is going to pick her replacement, which seems like the kind of thing a girl could have fun with if she was feeling vindictive. Just think: you could send the IIconics out to die.
Becky arrives, battered face and all, and says that she’s angry as hell at not being allowed to compete and that she’s been trying everything she could to fight on Sunday. She says that she’s glad she got to get into a scrap, and she wishes that she could finish what she’s started, telling Ronda that she’s lucky she gets to duck Becky this once.
Lynch then gets down to business, saying she needs to pick a replacement who can get the job done. She looks over the locker room, even stopping at Lana, presumably imagining being able to sit next to Rusev as he watches his wife get fucking murdered. But she picks Charlotte Flair, even giving her a hug. Well, there’s your character development. And sure: that was the obvious choice, and whilst it might have robbed us of a WrestleMania match, it’s certainly a nice lead into, say, a Horsewomen vs. Horsewomen feud? Who even knows what’s going on anymore?
Backstage, Charlotte is asked if she can put this moment into words. Charlotte says that she’s fought with and against Becky, but on Sunday she’s fighting for Becky to prove that SmackDown is the superior brand.
There’s no kicking out of a Big Show punch
Here’s Cesaro, Sheamus and the Big Show, ready to take on the New Day. Both teams make their entrances and the bell rings. Sheamus and Kofi kick off the match, with Kofi using his quickness to counter the Irishman’s power before tagging in Woods, who tags in Big E, all of whom hit Sheamus with a combination of blows, sending him staggering to his corner.
Cesaro enters the ring, catching Woods out of mid-air and driving him into the Bar’s corner. The Big Show enters the match, literally crushing Xavier in the corner before smashing him into the mat with his giant hand. After a break, Woods is still trying to escape the Bar, who is keeping him grounded and the other New Day members at bay. On the outside, the Big Show hurls Big E into the barricade, whilst Cesaro trash-talks Woods in the ring. Xavier manages to fight off Cesaro and Sheamus momentarily, but Sheamus catches him in the corner, taking him up to the top rope. Sheamus wants a superplex, but gets sent to back down to the mat, with Woods hitting him with a missile dropkick and managing to reach Kofi!
Kofi and Cesaro dash into the ring, and the Swiss Cyborg is rocked by Kingston’s offence, getting hit with a crossbody from the top rope. Big E tries to aid his teammate, but Sheamus sends him out to the apron and hits him with a Brogue Kick, followed by Woods getting dragged out of the ring by the Big Show. Kofi scores a Trouble in Paradise to Sheamus and the SOS to Cesaro, but the Bar member kicks out, catching another Trouble in Paradise attempt and slingshotting Kofi into the corner. Kingston manages to find his balance and springboard at the Big Show…who punches him smack out of the air, ending the match.
Fast-paced and fun, considering they really couldn’t let the Bar take a loss here. Really looking forward to the Survivor Series match. 2.5 Stars.
Backstage, the Usos have assembled the other SmackDown teams to give them a speech. And as rousing speeches go, it’s pretty decent. It’s also hilarious that a team with SAnitY on it is co-existing better than the main SmackDown team right now.
I’m going to go away and cry for a bit now
It’s main event time, and here comes Daniel Bryan, ready to fight for the WWE Championship until RAW does a run-in. And thanks for that, women of SmackDown: you got Becky Lynch injured and you’re about to wreck a WWE Championship match on free TV. AJ Styles follows, we get the post-entrance announcements (big match feel even if it’ll be a DQ ending) and the match is on.
Styles starts off aggressively, driving Bryan into a corner and slamming his shoulder into the challenger’s gut. Bryan returns the offence with kicks before AJ launches him over the top rope, then fells him with a vaulting forearm smash on the outside as we go to a commercial break.
When we come back, Bryan is treating AJ as his personal kick bag in the corner, but AJ suddenly grabs his leg, punishing the limb in order to weaken it for a submission. Bryan’s not having it; he knocks Styles to the mat with an enzuigiri, then counters AJ’s Phenomenal Forearm attempt by shoving him to the floor. On the outside, Bryan ram AJ’s shoulder right into the ring post multiple times, continuing to work over his arm back in the ring.
Bryan takes Styles to the mat, giving his arm a stiff kick before wrenching back on the limb. AJ fights back, trying to punch Bryan away from him, and he catches the challenger with a clothesline in the corner. Bryan backflips out of the corner, tries to hit AJ with a clothesline of his own, and both men collide with crossbodies. After a break, Bryan hits a running dropkick to Styles in the corner, followed by a hurricanrana from the top rope.
Bryan heads up to the top rope himself, but AJ catches him, trying to climb up there with him. Bryan batters him away, but eats a Pele Kick that stuns him, allowing Styles to join him on the top. Daniel suddenly slides out from under AJ, hanging him up in the Tree of Woe before slamming a dropkick into the Champion’s face. Bryan brings AJ back down to the mat with a back superplex, almost getting the win right there.
Bryan laces AJ with kicks, and Styles ducks the last one, rolling Bryan up before transitioning into the Styles Clash; Bryan kicks him in the face to counter the move, then runs into a back elbow. Styles manages to catch Bryan with a victory roll, then a Pele Kick, and then he goes for the springboard 450 splash; Bryan gets the knees up, and immediately locks in the Yes Lock! AJ almost taps, but manages to reach the rope, breaking the hold. Bryan winds up for the running knee, but Styles takes Bryan out with a dropkick to the leg, locking in the Calf Crusher!
Bryan manages to turn over, now applying the armbar, and now the Yes Lock in the centre of the ring! Styles counters himself, catapulting Bryan into the turnbuckle! Bryan elevates Styles to the outside, dodges the Phenomenal Forearm that strikes the referee, and then low blows Styles! Running Knee connects! Daniel Bryan wins the WWE Championship! Holy shit!
I don’t even know what to think right now. 4.5 Stars.
And Bryan follows that up with a vicious assault to Styles, kicking and stomping his head as the audience’s collective heart breaks. Jesus, Brock Lesnar is going to be the face in this match, and not in a “stop shoving Roman Reigns down our throats” way.
Tags: AJ Styles, Andrade "Cien" Almas, Becky Lynch, charlotte flair, Daniel Bryan, Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, smackdown live, The Bar, The Miz, The New Day, WWE