To address the pretty fucking horrifying elephant in the room first, I’m just going to state my position on every case like this in every industry, which is that I hope that every case is investigated thoroughly and professionally and that those found to have taken part in these appalling activities are prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law. I’ll make a slight addendum here to say that while it’s always awful when this happens in a sport or any other area that’s close to you, but I feel like we should at least take some comfort that these activities and the cover-ups have at last come to light and that we’re hopefully going to get a scouring of all the elements that helped conceal and enable this behaviour that would never happen without those affected having the courage to speak out.
We recap the Intercontinental Championship match from last week that was inexplicably not the main event and also wasn’t performed at Backlash (though I understand that WWE would not want Edge and Orton to have to follow this match). I’ve made it very clear that I thought this match was good and beautiful and an excellent example of telling a story entirely without words. Styles is apparently getting the Championship presented to him tonight, which seems like a delayed reaction considering he won it seven days ago.
AJ Styles wants to feel Bryan’s breath on his neck
Speaking of, Renee Young is in the ring with the Intercontinental Championship that, once again, she is not there to interview. What a waste. She instead introduces AJ Styles, who walks down to the ring, which is surrounded by a fair few members of the SmackDown locker room.
Styles engages on the customary post-Championship win gloat, revealing that he invited the locker room out there so that he could be a dick to them in person. He tells them that this is the closest that they’ll ever get to the title, either because of social distancing or because my dreams of AJ instituting a weekly open challenge are not something our reality was built to contain. We get a little bit of chat about how the Intercontinental Champion is totes fucking awesome, then we get to the actual presentation.
Except Styles doesn’t want some hot, blonde, intrepid reporter to present him with the title, but a short man with a neat beard and gathering stormclouds of unrelenting fury in his eyes: Daniel Bryan. He requests that Bryan put the title around his waist, inserting a psychosexual component into this rivalry that I didn’t know it needed until now.
Bryan wavers, mostly because he’s a little reluctant to take part in what would be WWE’s tribute to that pottery scene from Ghost. After some more needling, Bryan does put the belt on Styles, but now AJ wants Bryan to congratulate him, preferably while adopting Styles’ father’s accent, tone, and cadence. Bryan uses his congratulations to try to push AJ into an Open Challenge series, and God bless this bearded bastard for trying to make my dreams come true.
Styles, naturally, tells Bryan to fuck off, promising to only defend the strap against those who deserve it. Daniel Bryan, God amongst men, parlays this into a Championship opportunity for Drew Gulak, who beat Styles two weeks ago. AJ’s still not enthused, saying that there’ll only be a single number one contender at a time and that anyone who has a problem with that will face the consequences, which I guess are just a match against Styles not for the Intercontinental Championship.
And then Matt Riddle shows up, which given recent allegations I am very surprised by. Whatever the reason, the NXT alumnus is here on SmackDown. Styles isn’t exactly thrilled with this new arrival, yelling at Riddle like a disappointed father. He accuses Matt of wanting a handout, but Riddle claims that he’s actually here to give him some advice. He calls himself “the Bro that Runs the Show”, which is understandably enough to cause Styles to deck him. Riddle batters him out of the ring, and an irate Styles demands a referee.
Post-break, Riddle and Styles are both in the ring, and we get the announcement that the match is for the Intercontinental Championship, which Styles then says it isn’t. Wait, he can do that? Why hasn’t every heel champion done that?
Riddle starts off with a German suplex and proceeds to throw Styles around the ring as the SmackDown crew looks on. A jawbreaker staggers Riddle, which allows AJ to gain just enough composure to get roundhouse kicked in the fucking head. Riddle makes Styles look like the world’s biggest bitch before a dropkick gains AJ some measure of control, which is maintained after Riddle gets into a shoving match with Corbin on the outside, leaving himself open for a baseball slide from Styles.
After a commercial break, Styles is still in control as Riddle tries to fight back, looking more and more furious. AJ’s technical skill keeps Matt from mounting a serious comeback until a knee catches Styles in the face, and Riddle manages to capitalise with a fisherman’s suplex. Now Riddle picks up the pace, hitting Styles with an intense flurry of offence before applying the Bromission. AJ escapes, managing to apply the Calf Crusher to the leg he’s been steadily damaging throughout the match. Riddle reaches the ropes as Bryan gives him some encouragement, which causes Styles to escape the ring and shove him.
Styles wastes time on the outside, daring Bryan to hit him, which leaves him open for Riddle to counter a Phenomenal Forearm into the Bro Derek for the win.
I enjoyed most of this match, though the ending was more contrived than the usual distraction-win. The hinted-at feud with Corbin would undoubtedly be a great way to establish Riddle. 2.5 Stars.
Boohoo Jeff Hardy
We take a moment to recap the Greatest Crime in Wrestling History (suck it, Montreal Screwjob and Undertaker murdering the Big Boss Man at WrestleMania). Yep: it’s Jeff Hardy’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad few weeks. Despite criminal allegations, Jeff Hardy’s loss to Sheamus means that the Celtic Warrior has been found innocent in the court of professional wrestling, which is sort of like the court of public opinion only even less meaningful. One of these days, a wrestler is just going to press charges, and they will be a God to me.
Anyway, Jeff’s backstage with Renee Young, who’s clearly blocked out her whole evening tonight. They’re having an interview, which is an excellent opportunity for Hardy to whine and feel sorry for himself because those are attractive qualities in heroes. He describes his life as “amazing”, which I guess is one way to describe a non-stop, unrelenting thrill-ride created by different substances provoking a chemical reaction in your brain.
But his one big problem has been with Sheamus, both because Sheamus has been saying some insulting yet accurate stuff and is big and strong enough to batter the fuck out of anyone who has a problem with it. I always thought that was an agreed-upon protocol in wrestling. Jeff says that he’s been having negative thoughts, which he realises he needs to stop before they consume him. He admits to being a junkie before clarifying that he means “adrenaline junkie”, which is smart branding.
Basically, Jeff still wants to fight Sheamus, who at this point must be running out of things to say about Hardy’s history of alcoholism and drug abuse.
I still would have preferred Styles/Gable for the IC Championship
Meanwhile, in another part of backstage, Shorty G is getting ridiculed on the basis of his height and weight by Kayla Braxton, who’s got the fucking claws out tonight. Rawley sneaks up behind Gable and starts mocking how freakishly, inhumanly short he is until Gable turns around and decks him right in the face. YES: THAT. MORE OF THIS GABLE, PLEASE.
Rawley vs Gable is immediately after the break, and it starts off aggressively as Mojo beats on Chad. Gable is able to counter Rawley’s offence with an ankle lock attempt, followed by a Northern Lights suplex, because he’s a beautiful miniature badass. Rawley shuts him down right afterwards, continuing his assault.
Gable finally dodges a charge into the corner, hitting a huge German suplex before flying from the top rope. Mojo catches him, but he’s rolled up by Gable for the three.
I get that WWE wants to build Rawley as well, and I support that, but Gable needs definitive wins. Make him tap people out or pin them with the Chaos Theory. If you’re going to ridicule his height so much, he needs to convincingly beat his opponents. 1.5 Stars.
Sonya strikes me as someone without anything better to do
It’s Miz TV time, and they immediately discuss the miscommunication that occurred at Backlash. This is smoothed over with their explanation that they were only informed of the match rules minutes before the match itself, which…yeah, that is pretty incompetent on WWE’s part. They also manage to blame Otis, because never just change the topic if you can segue instead, and they introduce Mandy Rose.
Miz and Morrison bring up Sonya DeVille as a means of emotionally tormenting Mandy, which I’d say was uncalled for if it wasn’t for the fact that Mandy agreed to go on Miz TV and probably knew what she was getting into. Rose actually gets up and starts to walk out, which causes Miz to panic briefly, and he begs her to stay before bringing out Sonya DeVille.
Sonya is rocking an all-black suit and tie, which is a good idea in concept but always looks a little weird in reality, as it does here. Mandy is sick of this rivalry, which she doesn’t need considering she’s part of an ongoing storyline with Otis. DeVille is pissed that Mandy’s getting all the spotlight that she herself deserves, claiming that Rose hasn’t even done anything with the opportunities. I swear to God, I refuse to watch another Mandy Rose Women’s Championship match; you shut up, Sonya.
Mandy fires back by saying that she’s better than Sonya because she’s got people who care about her, which is a cruel remark even in the context of professional wrestling. She also mocks Sonya for being a fighter, despite both of them working in an industry which is based entirely around fake fighting. And, I suppose, bullshit.
Sonya says that she doesn’t care about Mandy Rose, which is definitely the message I got from her constant pursuit of Mandy to the point of stalking her talkshow appearances. DeVille finally accuses Rose of getting opportunities just because she’s hot, then promises to take that away from her. It really sounds like we’re gearing up for a WWE-produced homage to Face/Off, which I believe I’ve made clear I would be absolutely in favour of.
Mandy hits Sonya, and Sonya hits Mandy, and that sort of repeats for a while before Miz and Morrison provide cover for Sonya to escape. Mandy then slaps Miz and exits the ring. Not enough of Miz TV’s guests slap the host.
Cesaro and Nakamura will not be ignored
We recap Banks’ and Bayley’s friendship and various title reigns, which I just know is raising Michael Cole’s blood pressure with every second. If they don’t break up soon, he’s going to murder one of them; you can hear it in his voice and see it in his beady little eyes.
Sasha and Bayley arrive, and apparently they’re going to be providing commentary for the New Day vs Lucha House Party. It is not clear why, though I am keen to hear their reactions to Big E’s aggressive sexual energy. Cole seems to be trying to create a rivalry between the Women’s Tag Team Champions and the New Day, which is a match I would not be able to take seriously if it went beyond thirty seconds.
The New Day and LHP are pretty evenly matched, though it is hard to get a sense of that in the few seconds of footage I’m able to see between uninterrupted footage of Banks and Bayley. Big E’s entrance into the match changes things a bit, which is to say it makes them more belly-to-belly flavoured, though a low bridge and some diving action lets the House Party duo regain some control.
Post-commercials, Big E is keeping Dorado down, but a springboard stunner rocks his whole world. Kofi re-enters, but Metalik bamboozles him with some incredible athleticism, only for Kofi to catch him out of nowhere with a dropkick. LHP’s double-team action almost earns them the win, but Big E is able to shove Metalik onto the cover, breaking it up. A pair of stereo dives is thwarted by Kofi and Big E, and the Midnight Hour finishes the match.
I enjoy face vs face matches even with no storyline, and this was just a good wrestling match that showcased the division. As long as the match is solid, I’ve got no issue with that happening. 2.5 Stars
Right afterwards, Cesaro and Nakamura storm the ring and leave the New Day laying. Big E eats a Neutraliser, and Kofi takes a swing right into a Kinshasa. Anyone want to bet how long it is before that particular move puts someone on the shelf?
Cesaro tells Cole and Graves that they’re sick and tired of being ignored. But are they sick and tired of being sick and tired? I don’t know why everyone seems to think that Michael Cole runs any part of this show, but Sasha and Bayley scolding him afterwards is comedy gold.
Backstage, the SmackDown Women’s Division are sitting around, bitching about Banks and Bayley and their inability to stop them, which seems like a “them” problem. Lacey feels entitled to a title shot, which fits her like a glove considering she also feels entitled to wrestle professionally, and this irks Tamina. Lacey calls her “nasty”, probably biting back the word she really wants to say to her minority coworker.
Dana Brooke makes a call for unity before Alexa notices that Nikki’s gone missing. This ends the segment, which is what us Doctors of Creative Writing call “shite writing”.
Backstage, Sheamus is getting interviewed by Kayla. He revels in the fact that he’s a bully, which is an odd character trait; I always thought most bullies lashed out because of deep-seated issues in their past or an inability to express themselves in a positive manner. I think Sheamus might be insane.
Anyway, the aforementioned insane man more or less announces his intention to make Jeff Hardy fall off the wagon next week. In any other company on the planet, he’d be getting called into HR about half a second after that declaration. Bayley and Sasha Banks are totally down for that, which is the evilest thing I’ve seen them do.
Nikki Cross then jumps the pair of them, using that most traditional of advantages: being on the wrong end of two-to-one odds. It actually works, making it about as realistic as any battle scene from the last couple of seasons of Game of Thrones. Then Alexa Bliss, Nikki’s friend and carer, appears and pulls her away. Nikki challenges Sasha Banks to a match, with Bayley accepting on Sasha’s behalf.
Isn’t Bayley just making sure Sasha gets more money this way?
The match starts off with Nikki’s rage giving her full control. Sasha rolls out of the ring for a break, but that just earns her a diving crossbody from Cross. She’s finally able to counter a bulldog and hit a Banks Statement, but it’s not enough to get the job done.
Sasha takes control, trying to wear down the scrappy Scottish lass. Nikki finally manages to fight her way back in with kicks and headbutts, but Banks stops her from making a dive. This sees Sasha get the fuck kicked out of her for a bit, followed by a tornado DDT that almost finishes the match.
After a neat little exchange involving Sasha countering a backbreaker, Nikki is trapped in the Banks Statement, which she counters by whacking Sasha’s skull off the mat. Counter after counter takes place, culminating in Sasha hitting a standing Meteora to pick up the win.
The reverse-and-counter in this match, plus Nikki’s character work, elevated this match a lot. This could go a number of ways, though a frustration-fuelled Nikki Cross heel turn is something I’d be excited to see. 2.5 Stars.
The role of the Fiend will be played tonight by 2013 Bray Wyatt
It’s Firefly Fun House time, and Bray gets in some laughs by telling us all what he’s done on his holidays. Ramblin’ Rabbit has to be narc and tell us that Wyatt’s been going through a low-grade depression, and that furry little twat’s just asking to get murdered again.
Strowman then interrupts by pretending to be a train when he is actually a human man. He makes his way to the ring before addressing Wyatt, telling him that he’s failed once, apparently under the impression that you only get one title shot in WWE. It’s like he didn’t see AJ and Shinsuke Glorious Dick-Punting Adventure.
But even if this was true, which it’s not, Bray states that he’s found a way to resurrect the dead, revealing that he intends to bring back Backwoods Cult Leader/Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear Bray Wyatt. What, is the Fiend busy writing a screenplay? Original!Wyatt talks about how he created Bray and so needs to destroy him, but all I’m hearing is “I don’t want to win the Universal Championship just yet”.
Bray signs off by telling Braun to follow the Buzzards before saying “run” and blowing out the lantern. Which, I’ll admit, was a lovely bit of nostalgia.
Tags: AJ Styles, AJ Styles vs Matt Riddle, Alexa Bliss, bayley, Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro, Chad Gable, Chad Gable vs Mojo Rawley, Firefly Fun House, Jeff Hardy, Jon Morrison, King Corbin, Lucha House Party, Mandy Rose, Matt Riddle, Mojo Rawley, Nikki Cross, otis, sasha banks, Sasha Banks vs Nikki Cross, sexual misconduct, Sheamus, shinsuke nakamura, Shorty G, smackdown, The Fiend, The Miz, The Miz and Morrison, The New Day, The New Day vs Lucha House Party, WWE