WWE: Smackdown LIVE! 7/26/2016 Notebook

Opening Segment: Another new era show that is supposed to be featuring less authority, opens the show with the authority figures in the ring

On the upside of this, they at least joined the proceedings once the Smackdown roster was already present in the ring. McMahon and Bryan talked up how things were going to be different on Smackdown and also announce that on September 11st, Smackdown will have their first exclusive pay-per-view event, Backlash. Some of you may remember Backlash as the former post-Wrestlemania pay-per-view event from 1999 until 2009 when it ceased to be a pay-per-view event. Not getting too far ahead of themselves, McMahon and Bryan say they need an opponent for Dean Ambrose at Summerslam for the WWE Championship, so they announce a six-pack challenge for the main event with the following participants:

1. John Cena
2. Bray Wyatt
3. Dolph Ziggler
4. Baron Corbin
5. AJ Styles

Who would be the sixth participant? Well, that was going to be decided in a battle royal that kicks off the first post-draft edition of Smackdown. The way they worded it, it seemed like even females were going to be included in the battle royal, which would’ve been a cool change of pace, but eventually, McMahon says, “Gentlemen, that match is next.” Bummer. I’d have marked out for Becky Lynch, Natalya, or any Smackdown female not named Eva Marie winning the battle royal and entering the six-pack challenge.

1st Match: Apollo Crews wins the Battle Royal to advance to the Six-Pack Challenge Main Event

Pretty standard battle royal. Not a whole lot was really going on until the final four of Kalisto, Kane, Apollo Crews, and Zack Ryder. I thought it was an interesting final four since there weren’t really any heels in the finals of this battle royal. In the end, Apollo Crews is able to get himself free from a chokeslam and is able to dump Kane over the ropes to win the battle royal and join the likes of John Cena, Bray Wyatt, Dolph Ziggler, Baron Corbin, and AJ Styles.

2nd Match: Becky Lynch def. Natalya

Not to bury the note inside of the notes for this match, but prior to this match, WWE announced that former WWE Tag Team and Intercontinental Champion, Shelton Benjamin, would be making his return to the Smackdown brand sometime in the near future. There was no date announced for his return, but it is coming.

As for Natalya vs. Becky Lynch, I thought the ladies did another great job on Smackdown, this time with more of a technical wrestling display being put on for the audience in the arena and at home. In the end, the result does not come as a surprise as Becky Lynch gets the receipt win over Natalya with the Disarmer for a submission victory, in the same way that Natalya made Becky tap at the PPV. Now, their feud stands at 1–1, so I sure hope we get the rubber match between these two. I don’t know that I’d put it on the SummerSlam main card that will likely feature the rematch of Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte, but I could see this being a great match for the pre-show to get the Brooklyn crowd cooking before the PPV.

Post-match, in something that I am really enjoying on Raw and Smackdown, we get an interview with Becky Lynch that doesn’t last too long before Alexa Bliss appears to talk some trash and talk about how she’s going to dominate Smackdown. This brings out Naomi with a similar message and it also brings out Carmella with a similar message. In the end, we get Eva Marie who has the most outlandish introduction in the history of wrestling and maybe the hottest ring gear I’ve ever seen. For how terrible she is in the ring, she’s great at everything else. She’s easy to hate, she’s got a great body, she’s got a great look, and she’s got everything you’d want to hate about a female except she lacks the skills to back it up. I’d have preferred the women to start throwing punches during this segment instead of standing and acting like they were going to vomit, but it was what it was. It got the females on screen and staking a claim, but what are they staking a claim to. We still don’t know if the Women’s Championship will remain exclusive to Raw or if the champion will travel between shows. On a side note, Eva Marie does not illicit a vomit response from me. Damn, that woman is hot.

3rd Match: Randy Orton def. The Miz (Non-Title Match)

The way that they worded it at first, I really thought we had a random Intercontinental Championship Match coming out of another semi-boring edition of Miz TV. It’s weird. I think The Miz is a great heel on the mic, but I hate his talk show segment. I actually tend to not really enjoy any of the talk show segments anymore because they’re rarely about just an interview, they’re usually just fodder to set up a match and this edition of Miz TV was no different. The highlight came when Maryse started belittling Randy Orton for the way he was talking to The Miz and she accepted the match on his behalf, something Miz didn’t exactly look pleased with. As for the match itself, I thought it was really awesome how The Miz went right after the bad shoulder of Orton and Orton did such a good job of selling it that for a brief moment, I thought he may have actually re-injured himself. However, as the attack went on and Orton didn’t start shoot punching, kicking, and even spitting at The Miz, I realized that Orton was just that damn good of an actor. In the end, Orton hits 2 RKO’s to send home the message to The Miz and Brock Lesnar that while it only takes 1 RKO to get to Viperville, sometimes, he may throw you two.

Post-match, we see a video package on American Alpha, who make their Smackdown in-ring debut next week. Cannot wait to see the show they put on. I’m predicting that they’ll either make their debut against The Ascension or The Vaudevillains, two teams who can’t seem to catch a break. I’d love to see either team feud with American Alpha.

Segment: Heath Slater crashes Smackdown

Heath Slater crashed Smackdown next to complain about how it was unbelievable to him that he was not drafted by Raw or Smackdown. He urged Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan to sign him to Smackdown since he is the hottest free agent in wrestling. Shane appears and they have a back and forth until Rhyno randomly appears and Shane suddenly says that Heath is right, the hottest free agent is before his eyes. Slater turns around and eats a big Gore from Rhyno, who is revealed as the first free agent signing for Smackdown Live. I like the idea that we have free agents available coming out of the draft. For instance, The Undertaker was never drafted. Will a brand sign him before next Wrestlemania season? Better yet, could you imagine the storyline of Raw and Smackdown competing to sign The Undertaker to an exclusive contract. Yes, I like the idea of free agents in this brand split. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next with Slater, I presume he’ll crash Raw on Monday. As for Rhyno, it looks like he’s exclusive to Smackdown now.

MAIN EVENT: Dolph Ziggler def. AJ Styles, John Cena, Baron Corbin, Bray Wyatt, and Apollo Crews to earn a WWE Championship Match at Summerslam with Dean Ambrose

Now, I owe Dolph Ziggler a straight up apology. I’m so used to him doing the honors in the ring, that prior to the match, I ranked who I thought was most likely to win from most likely to least likely and the list looked like this:

1. Bray Wyatt
2. Baron Corbin
3. John Cena
4. AJ Styles
5. Apollo Crews
6. Dolph Ziggler

I felt like this match started off slow and going to a commercial within seconds of the opening bell kills momentum for the viewer, especially when the match begins with people throwing punches at each other. Get us all excited and then head to a commercial break. Sure, whatever works. For me, the match was slow and underwhelming until the final minutes of the match when the speed picked up, people started hitting signatures and finishers for near falls, and the overall flow of the match just improved greatly over the opening minutes. In what was a complete and total shocker for me, based on my rankings, Dolph Ziggler hits a surprise superkick on AJ Styles to get the 3-count and chance to challenge Dean Ambrose for the WWE Championship at Summerslam. A day later, I’m still shocked that they went with Ziggler as the winner. Good for him, he’s a great worker and a complete package, so it’ll be nice to see him under a main event spotlight after hanging out in the mid to undercard for the last couple of years since his failed World Heavyweight Title run that was only a failure because he got badly injured via a concussion and basically had to give up the title to Alberto Del Rio, which ultimately began his babyface turn when he broke away from AJ Lee and Big E. I feel like his career has never recovered from that injury and dissolution of a partnership, so it’ll be interesting to see what direction his character takes. Sure, WWE could go with a fan favorite vs. fan favorite, but I think Ziggler is better as a villain and I hope this angle takes him in that direction. As he and Ambrose shared a stare down to close out Smackdown, I sat waiting for another surprise superkick, but it never came. Maybe next week?

Smackdown Live Rating: 7/10

Why? It was a good show, but it suffers from slow starts to matches and odd pacing at times. The show began strong with the opening promo, but the battle royal didn’t seem to mean much until the final four were in the ring. Even then, we had a pretty noticeable botch from Zack Ryder, that he’s taken in stride by saying he knows “how the Shockmaster felt” when asked about the botch last night. While it was nice to see all of the Smackdown females getting some TV time, I wish there had been some physicality between all the females, especially once Eva Marie and her outlandish intro and hot-ass attire entered the fray. Why didn’t Carmella go punch her in the nose? Or why didn’t Naomi suddenly throw Alexa Bliss into a barricade? Miz TV went far too long for my liking and once it was clear the match was non-title, it was very predictable that Miz was doing the honors for the returning Orton. Even the main event started off too slow for my liking and I felt it brought down the overall quality of the match in the long run. Highlights of the night include Becky Lynch vs. Natalya, Heath Slater crashing Smackdown only to be gored by Rhyno, and the closing moments of the main event where it was a near-fall frenzy that led to a surprise win for Dolph Ziggler. I’m expecting Smackdown to get better each week as they continue to add new talent and free agents to their roster because the Raw roster outnumbers them by a ratio of 3 to 2. For every 2 Smackdown has, Raw has 3. With the signing of Rhyno to Smackdown and the announcement of Shelton Benjamin’s return, Smackdown will have some veterans on the brand to help with the roster depth and help with elevating the stars of the new era.