INTRO: We get highlights of last week’s triple-threat main event, in which AJ Styles became U.S. champion. Tonight, Kevin Owens gets his championship rematch, and John Cena and Shinsuke Nakamura square off in a “dream match”. The winner faces WWE Champion Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam.
OPENING SEGMENT: Styles walked into the live arena in Cleveland. Tom Phillips said AJ was in the “right place, right time” in a tremendous triple threat match. JBL claimed that Styles stole one last week, reminding viewers that Owens was not even involved in the finish. Phillips said the wrath of Owens could put superstars on the shelf for months.
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens – U.S. Championship match
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Both men jawed at each other before the opening bell. Owens grabbed a headlock to start as AJ fought him vainly for about 30 seconds. AJ grabbed his own chinlock, then Owens went back to the headlock. This opening sequence actually looks like two men legitimately wrestling with no fancy or slick counters. Styles sent Owens into the ropes but missed a dropkick, giving KO the opportunity to bash him from behind with a clothesline. Styles flew out of the ring. Owens followed and dropped him with a big running clothesline as we go to break.
Back from commercial, KO booted a charging Styles in the corner, getting a two count. JBL channeled Bobby Heenan in declaring that’ll give you athlete’s foot in the mouth. Owens pulled AJ up, but Styles connected with a dropkick as Owens bounded off the ropes. Styles regained his feet first. He knocked around the challenger in the corner, then took him over with a snapmare before hitting a hard kick to the back. Styles hit a running knee drop for his first televised cover of the match (getting a one count). A suplex netted the champion another one count. Byron Saxton mentioned that AJ has numerous family members who served in the military, and he and his family are proud that he has the U.S. championship. That type of reference justifies a pure babyface color commentator on this announce team.
Styles stomped Owens down in the corner, then went for the Phenomenal Forearm. Owens rolling out of the ring to avoid it, but AJ pursued a wobbly KO, launching himself over the top rope and onto Owens with a big forearm. Styles waited until Owens got to his feet, then ran at him. Owens sidestepped AJ and tossed him face first onto the barricade. Owens took a 25-foot running start and cannonballed into Styles, then tossed him inside the ring. We stay with the action via split screen as the announcers go to commercial. Owens gets a two count, then takes out his frustration with a senton and another two count. We arrive at Chinlock City. AJ fought out, only to get backdropped for (yes) a two count. He rolled to the apron, then battled Owens over suplex attempts. Owen eventually won the contest; his prize was a two count.
An angry Owens bashed AJ with some rights before taking us back to Chinlock City. Owens beat on AJ and put his finger to his ear to taunt the crowd. Back from break, AJ flipped out of a back suplex attempt, firing up with strikes and a climactic clothesline. Styles hit a running forearm on a seated Owens and a leaping clothesline on a standing Owens. He connected on a fireman’s carry neckbreaker for a two count. Styles called for the Styles Clash, but Owens backdropped his way out of it. He backdropped AJ again over the top rope, but Styles landed on the apron and made another bid for a Phenomenal Forearm. Owens again rolled away, then responded with a superkick that sent spit flying. KO got an extremely close fall in which AJ struggled to push Owens off him. JBL said you can’t get any closer to a new champion than that.
Owens threw Styles into the ropes for a pop-up powerbomb. AJ held on, then hooked Owens into the calf crusher when KO ran towards him. Owens nearly tapped out, then grabbed Styles’ hair and headbutted him to break the hold. AJ recovered first, but missed and ate turnbuckle after running at Owens in the corner. Styles recovered to hit a Pele kick. AJ went for another Styles Clash, which Owens again sandbagged. Styles went to plan B by reapplying the calf crusher. Owens bit his hand in pain, then made some hard feints at tapping before grabbing the bottom rope. When Styles went back after Owens’ left leg, KO kept him at bay, then hit him with a kick to the chest before landing another superkick.
Owens picked up Styles, then threw a haymaker that missed AJ and grazed referee Mike Chioda in the face. Chioda appeared to get hit in the eye with that shot. Owens stayed on Styles, hitting a kick to the face. But when he threw Styles into the ropes, AJ countered a pop-up powerbomb into a victory roll pinning combination. Despite Owens getting his shoulder up before the count of one, the vision-impaired referee counted to three, giving Styles the win. Owens shook his head vehemently as JBL protested that Styles wasn’t even close to pinning Owens’ shoulders down. Chioda struggled to get to his feet, clutching a hand to his face to guard his injured eye. Owens smothered him in the corner to plead his case until a WWE medical/training rep got Chioda out of the ring to examine him. Still in the ring, Owens watched a replay showing his right shoulder up during the referee’s entire count. JBL declared he sees the same conspiracy that Owens sees. Phillips said that Owens got the title rematch he wanted, but, sometimes, things don’t work out your way.
Result: AJ Styles “pinned” Kevin Owens with a victory roll pinning combination.
Backstage, Chioda got his right eye examined via flashlight. Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon confronted him. Bryan said they had a big problem, and McMahon told him he made a bad call. Chioda said his eyes are blurry, and he didn’t have time to call for a second official. McMahon said he’d deal with it. The calm dissipated as enraged Owens approached, screaming that he just got screwed.
Bryan and McMahon tried to calm Owens, who grabbed Chioda’s shirt and threw him backwards into a ladder. McMahon told Owens he can’t put his hands on an official, and that the referee’s decision stands. But he said he would give KO a title rematch at SummerSlam. KO said McMahon was indeed going to give him a rematch, but that wasn’t enough. He said he wanted a referee with two good eyes who can do his job. Bryan said he has a referee for Owens – and it’s Shane. Owens called Shane the “worst one” and “most incompetent person here.” McMahon told Owens he would be the referee… if KO wanted his title rematch. A steaming Owens accepted the match and its referee, then knocked over some equipment before storming off.
Back at ringside, Saxton promoted the Cena/Nakamura match. We were also promised an episode of Fashion Files (Twin Peaks style) later tonight.
A screen graphic told us that SmackDown Live was the most social show on primetime television last week, beating something called The International Champions Cup (on ESPN) and NCIS. Of course it got more social media mentions than those shows. My dad watches NCIS and he can’t even text.
Phillips led us into a replay of the Usos’ assault on New Day last week. Jimmy and Jey flinging Kofi Kingston face-first into the side of the video board still looks nasty. A voice boomed out “Awww, Cleveland!”, then commanded the crowd to clap for their “busted-up tag team champs”. Then the twins came out. JBL asked how talented the Usos were. In verse form, Uce asked the crowd whom they thought they were getting. Was it three clowns on a tricycle? Three grown men talking about each others’ popsicles? The Usos said that, if you step out of your box, the Usos will pick you up and put you back in the correct lane. They said New Day got welcomed to the Uso penitentiary with a comic book-style attack (Boom! Bing! Pow!). The Usos said New Day could keep their unicorns, ice cream bars, and socks.
Usos: “We taking your tag titles AND your catchphrase. Becaaause, Uso rocks!”
JBL said the Usos just owned New Day. Phillips segued into discussing Breezango, stating that Fandango’s whereabouts were unknown after he was dragged off at Battleground. This week, Tyler Breeze must go it alone. We get scenes of the idyllic natural beauty found in “Fashion Peaks”. This week’s bulletin board material had a “Missing” photo of Fandango, who allegedly disappeared 25 years ago. We also get a photo of Kane captioned with “Fire Walk With Me”, a picture of Becky “Lynch?!”, a shot of “Blue Velvet McIntyre”, and a portrait of Eraserhead (Sting). Having ditched women’s clothes for a black three-piece, Breeze voiced his questions into a digital recorder. Those questions surrounded Fandango’s current location, as well as why he was recording this message instead of just using a phone.
Breeze started to take a sip of coffee, then poured it out suspiciously. All of a sudden, the lights flickered, and a red-shirted Fandango appeared. He spoke unintelligibly, then was flanked by the Ascension as Breeze tried to make sense of what he was seeing. Konnor shushed Tyler, then poured barbecue sauce onto a wooden log. Prince Pretty mused that it was no wonder this show got canceled the first time. Viktor handed a rose to Fandango, chuckling as the thorn stung his hand. Then all three men started laughing as Breeze asked what it all meant.
Tyler Breeze: “Enough with the metaphors! No more metaphors!”
The action suddenly swirled as Breeze came out of a dream, waking to find himself exactly where he was during his dream. He grabbed the recorder to tell Diane that he knew who kidnapped Fandango. This saga is to be continued; the backstage drama got a round of applause from the studio audience. Back in WWE reality, Sami Zayn made his way to the ring for action.
Sami Zayn vs. Aiden English
The Shakespeare of Song performed unaccompanied on his stroll to the ring. He vowed to bring the pain to Sami. While Elias Samson makes me laugh most weeks on Raw, this a capella crooning is truly hateable, and could make English a compelling villain. JBL claimed that English studied under Andrea Bocelli – “online”. English took the lead with a headlock and shoulder-tackle into a bow and blown kiss. He motioned toward the canvas on which he would paint his masterpiece. English grabbed a top wristlock, which Sami countered as he applied his own hold. Zayn executed three arm drags and maneuvered English into an arm bar on the mat. English took Sami over with the tights, then folded him up in a schoolboy position (with his body weight pressing down on Zayn’s legs) for a three count out of nowhere. English celebrated wide-eyed outside the ring as Sami sat up and held out his hands in disbelief. Saxton said English looked shocked. The announce team then compared that finish to a Jackson Pollock piece.
Result: Aiden English pinned Sami Zayn with the element of surprise.
As English walked toward the locker room, the Kanellis monster ballad blared throughout the arena. Maria and Mike joined hands to mock Zayn’s loss from the entrance ramp. Heaven isn’t too far away.
Backstage, Becky Lynch and Naomi geared up for their match against Natalya and Carmella, which is coming up next.
Naomi and Becky Lynch vs. Natalya and Carmella
Natalya put her arm around Carmella as they stood in the ring, like their last month of acrimony over the Money in the Bank contract never happened. Lynch and Natalya tied up and engaged in some mat wrestling to start this match. Lynch got the best of this exchange, hitting an arm drag and spin kick to the gut. She appeared to tweak her right knee jumping over Natalya, but stayed on offense with a drop toehold. Lynch tagged Naomi, who sprung over the top rope with a sunset flip attempt. When Natalya escaped with a back somersault, Lynch hit her with a flying forearm and Naomi piled on with a leaping leg drop. After kicking out of a pin attempt, Natalya took a de facto timeout in her corner, finally tagging in Carmella. The princess of Staten Island got more of the same, absorbing kicks to the leg from Naomi. She finally caught the champion’s leg and slapped her hard. Naomi floored her with a kick, then slid across the ring to slap back her opponent. Think Bruce Springsteen running across the Super Bowl halftime show stage to crotch himself on a TV camera a few years back. Natalya intervened on the apron, allowing Carmella to grab Naomi and toss her to the mat.
Natalya tagged in to help Carmella throw Naomi to the mat by her hair, after which both women executed a wishbone on their fallen opponent. Natalya applied a rear chinlock. Naomi tossed her across the ring to counter, but Natalya picked her up to prevent the tag, then dumped her mid-ring. The #1 contender knocked Lynch off the apron, then applied the Sharpshooter. Naomi dragged herself near the ropes, but Natalya pulled her back to the middle of the ring and nearly got the tapout before Naomi successfully grabbed the ropes with a second effort. Carmella tagged in quickly to apply the Code of Silence. Naomi countered it into her own submission (the unnamed hold she used to beat Lana a few weeks back). Becky foiled Natalya’s interference attempt with a Becksploder as Carmella tapped out.
Result: Naomi and Becky Lynch beat Natalya and Carmella via submission when Naomi forced Carmella to tap out.
Backstage, Renee Young introduced Mahal and the Singh Brothers (Samir sported a neckbrace while Sunil had his right arm in a sling). She asked the champion who he’d prefer to see win tonight’s main event. Mahal proclaimed that it didn’t matter if it was the man from Japan or the American. He said he’d be watching this “so-called dream match” from his personal skybox. Mahal said the only thing he felt while walking down the street was xenophobia (ugh; that’s really going to hit a wall if Nakamura wins tonight). But that only made him feel prouder of his heritage. He vowed that no one could end the reign of the Modern Day Maharaja.
Rusev walked intently backstage. Phillips said he would face Chad Gable next.
Chad Gable vs. Rusev
Gable would be a fine addition to the cruiserweight division, provided that WWE wants fans to invest emotionally in those matches and care about the outcomes. He looked like he might be Rusev’s evening meal here. Rusev flung Gable off him to counter three different takedown attempts. Phillips said that Gable would typically attempt to wear out his opponents and use his superior conditioning during his Greco-Roman career. Rusev tossed him outside the ring, but Gable dove back in and finally took Rusev to the mat. He snapped his weight down onto Rusev’s left knee three times. Rusev got to his feet and caught Gable coming in with a knee, then ragdolled him with a double-underhook suplex for a two count.
Going to split screen, Rusev kicked a prone Gable in the corner. He whipped him chest-first into the turnbuckle as Gable took the Bret Hart bump. Rusev punished Gable, choking him across the middle rope and then locking him in a bear hug. Gable couldn’t fight out, so Rusev eventually just slung him to the mat. He followed up by missing a running splash. Gable sold weariness but not pain. Unable to execute a backslide on Rusev, Gable grabbed his opponent and threw him with an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Holding onto it, Gable executed another suplex. Rusev pounded his way out of a third, but Gable caught him with a belly-to-back suplex, holding the pin for a near fall. JBL compared Gable to Danny Hodge for displaying superior strength in a package that belied his power.
Gable went to the top rope, but Rusev sprang to his feet and tried to drag him off. Gable kicked him away twice, then backflipped off the ropes. He suckered Rusev into stampeding towards him in the opposite corner. Rusev jumped at Gable and missed, hitting his head on the top of the ringpost. Gable hit a moonsault, which Rusev kicked out of at 2.9. Gable evinced disappointment at coming so close to victory. JBL said we’re seeing the emergence of a superstar in Chad Gable, who beckoned Rusev to stand. Gable grabbed Rusev for an O’Connor roll, but Rusev executed a go-behind to prevent the accompanying belly-to-back suplex. He propelled Gable backwards over his head, then smashed him with a kick to the skull. Rusev covered Gable for a two count.
Rusev yelled out in frustration, then called for the Accolade. He stomped Gable’s back, but Gable slipped between his legs and applied an ankle lock. Rusev teased tapping out, instead rolling onto his back and leg pressing Gable out of the ring. Gable dove back in to absorb a thrust kick to the face. Rusev dove onto Gable and applied the Accolade for the submission victory. Saxton said he believed that Gable shocked a lot of people tonight, Rusev included.
Grade: Rusev defeated Chad Gable with the Accolade.
After the match, Rusev said he was promised competition when he came to SmackDown. He acknowledged that he was given Cena. So what’s his complaint? Rusev said that Cena may have waved his flag around at Battleground, but he did not beat the Bulgarian Brute. Because no one can beat Rusev. He said everyone is too scared to fight Rusev at SummerSlam. His own music hit, which seemed to surprise Rusev for some reason. A few seconds later, Randy Orton’s music sounded as the Viper emerged from the curtain. That’s probably a production miscue.
Orton walked to the ring, which Rusev refused to let him enter. Orton called for a mic outside the ring. He said that, if he was Rusev, he wouldn’t want Orton to get in that ring either. Rusev motioned to invite him inside the ropes; Orton did so. He told Rusev he’d never beaten him. Orton said he wasn’t afraid of Rusev, and informed Rusev that he accepted his challenge for SummerSlam. Rusev laughed and spoke in Bulgarian. At the conclusion of his monologue, Orton delivered an RKO.
A replay was shown of Styles beating Owens due to the referee’s missed call, then Owens going face-to-face with Shane backstage. McMahon will officially serve as special guest referee for the Styles-Owens match at SummerSlam. Saxton said that Orton and Rusev have also been booked to wrestle at the pay-per-view.
John Cena vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
JBL compared Cena chasing his 17th world title to Hank Aaron hitting his 715th home run. Just before the bell, Phillips said that Naomi would fight Carmella next week on SmackDown. Cena jumped up several times before locking up; they’ve got about 16 minutes to work with, which isn’t ideal for a matchup of this stature. Nakamura ducked a lock-up and walked by coolly before turning and smiling at Cena. Cena then dipped under a lock-up attempt and did his “you can’t see me” hand wave to Nakamura. A third try led to an actual tie-up. Shinsuke backed Cena into a corner, did his head-rest/arm-sway taunt, then put up the three-googles to his eyes to show that he could indeed see Cena. Entertaining personality and no intimidation shown by Nakamura against the Franchise. JBL compared Shinsuke to the Great Muta, as you had no idea what he was going to do at any given moment.
Cena applied a top wristlock in the center of the ring. Nakamura countered into a headlock. Cena leapfrogged him twice as Nakamura ran the ropes, then halted his momentum to tell Cena to bring it. Cena tried but was met with strikes and a kick that floored him. Nakamura stepped into Good Vibrations in the corner. Cena responded with right hands. He missed a corner charge, but countered another Good Vibrations attempt into a belly-to-belly suplex for a two count. Cena applied a rear chinlock as we go to break.
We return to find both men throwing strikes. Nakamura landed a knee and spinning heel kick, from which both men needed time to recuperate. They ran the ropes toward each other; Nakamura hit a flying kick, then nipped up and yelled. He connected with a succession of left-footed kicks. He whipped Cena into the corner, eventually hitting his running knee strike to the gut for a two count. Cena fought out of the reverse exploder, creating separation and battering Nakamura with two flying shoulder-tackles. A wild swing led into a blue thunder bomb. Cena pointed to the crowd before getting in Nakamura’s face prior to a Five Knuckle Shuffle. Nakamura preempted the “you can’t see me” taunt by grabbing Cena and attempting to lock in a cross armbreaker. Unable to do so, Nakamura transitioned into a triangle choke. Cena picked up Nakamura with one arm, only to receive a facebuster.
Nakamura set up for the Kinshasa. Cena countered with a drop toehold, then applied the STF. Nakamura slipped out and locked in the cross armbreaker. Cena quickly clasped his hands; upon Nakamura breaking his grip, he rolled on top of Shinsuke for a pin attempt. As both men got to their feet, Cena brought Nakamura back down with a clothesline that turned him inside out. Favoring his left arm, Cena picked up Nakamura, who struck him with a big forearm and a sliding knee. Nakamura called again for the Kinshasa. Cena avoided the kick and hit the Attitude Adjustment. Nakamura kicked out just in time. Cena went for another AA, but found himself caught in a guillotine choke. Although neither this hold nor the triangle were actually called “chokes” by Phillips.
Cena looked about to give up, then flipped Nakamura onto his shoulders for another Attitude Adjustment. He grabbed Nakamura’s right wrist, somersaulted over him, then lifted him for another Attitude Adjustment. Nakamura slipped out and threw Cena ONTO HIS HEAD with a reverse exploder. The referee checked on Cena twice to see if he was alright to continue. Nakamura ran through Cena with a Kinshasa for a huge win. The referee continued speaking with Cena, who looked hurt. JBL called this match the biggest victory of Nakamura’s career. That reverse exploder looked scary on replay. Cena got to his feet and shook Nakamura’s hand, then raised his arm in victory. Nakamura bowed to his opponent. He goes to SummerSlam to wrestle for the WWE championship.
Result: Shinsuke Nakamura pinned John Cena after hitting the Kinshasa.
AJ vs. KO
Another terrific bout between these two, who kicked off SmackDown with a 20-minute championship match. They may not be done, either, as the creative and well-executed finish gave Owens a clear rationale for demanding another title shot. KO is hitting his stride as an entitled, aggrieved heel.
Ready, Willing, and Gable
Chad Gable gave another strong showing, this time giving the sense that he could chop down a larger opponent. He’s had two standout TV matches in the last month (the other with Styles); we’ll see if WWE can help him marry his obvious in-ring ability with the corny-yet-winsome humor he displayed in NXT.
They faked me out with their New Day entrance (I thought it was Kofi introducing his team), then successfully bashed their SummerSlam opponents in verse. Uce looked like they’re having fun being bad as they continue to peak this summer.
It’s crummy in real-life and boring on scripted television. Mahal would be a stronger heel if he doubled down on his elitism and snobbery, looking down on Americans instead of railing against their bigotry. Instead, we get at least another month of complaints that no one cares about that don’t further any feuds.
A strong night of in-ring action for SmackDown Live. Styles and Owens are so good together that another match at SummerSlam should make everyone happy. Nakamura clearly felt like he belonged in the ring with Cena, and his confidence that they were equals likely gave everyone else the same impression. You can’t help wishing that bout had been the SummerSlam main event. If his title match against Mahal needs another mega-bump to spark the crowd, maybe Shinsuke will physically eject one of the Singhs from a press box to generate excitement. On the women’s side, Naomi looked impressive in her tag team match, but WWE must do more to build Natalya as a true contender. A win over Lynch during the next few weeks may do the trick without hurting one of WWE’s most resilient superstars.