OPENING SEGMENT: We got a Kevin Owens cold open to welcome our new U.S. champion. KO walked smugly to the ring in a three-piece suit. JBL referred to the anticlimactic finish of Sunday’s championship match as a “slip on a banana peel.” Owens took the microphone and asked, “This just feels right, doesn’t it?” Gazing at his title, Owens gave us the following chicken soup for the soul quote:
Kevin Owens: “At Battleground, I proved to everyone that, if your heart is pure, and you’re a good person, good things will happen.”
Owens talked through a loud AJ Styles chant, paused, then announced that he is reinstating the U.S. championship open challenge. And it begins nnn-next week. That deft head fake garnered more boos. Owens said he would never defend his title in front of a bunch of hicks in Richmond, VA, which triggered laughter from most of the fans shown in the crowd reaction shot. AJ Styles walked out. KO said he better be out here to congratulate him. Styles shot back that he wanted his rematch for the U.S. championship. Then, someone else’s theme music hit.
Chris Jericho strutted out, list in hand, as the crowd went off. The bescarfed Jericho was all smiles as he walked to the ring. Byron Saxton told Owens that “a nightmare of your past has returned.” Big “Y2J” chant from the Richmond fans. Jericho announced that, “It’s the return of Jericho. Welcome back, maaaan!” Owens repeatedly asked Jericho what he was doing here, to which Jericho responded with a crescendo-ing volley of, “Quiet!” He acknowledged that he left on a stretcher during his last SmackDown appearance. But Y2J’s rehabbed with cross-fit, healthy eating, and a few beers, and he’s back to get his U.S. title rematch tonight.
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Styles told Jericho that everyone is glad he’s back, but the next guy in line for a U.S. championship match is the Phenomenal One. Jericho asked Styles if he was trying to butt in line ahead of him. Then he asked Styles if he knew what happened to people who tried to cut in front of him. Jericho did indeed jot down Styles’ name on the list, then wheeled around to ask the “stupid idiot” Owens where he thought he was going. Owens was all the way up the ramp by this point, having forsaken the in-ring shenanigans. KO ignored him and tried to walk to the locker room; he was then stonewalled by Shane McMahon’s entrance. McMahon said both Jericho and Styles have legitimate claims to title rematches, and both men would get their opportunities – at the same time. He booked a triple threat match including all three men for tonight’s main event. JBL called it one of the biggest main events in SmackDown history.
Saxton said that Shinsuke Nakamura would take on Baron Corbin in a Battleground rematch next. Both men were shown walking backstage; Nakamura looked like his jaw was still wonky after their match Sunday.
Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Baron Corbin
Both superstars threw hands in what looked like a bare-knuckle boxing match. Corbin missed with some wild swings before Nakamura landed a kick and knee strike. Saxton said that Nakamura was livid on Sunday, shouting and searching for Corbin after their Battleground match. That’s a constructive comment that lends an edge to Shinsuke’s usually cool demeanor. Nakamura hit a running knee on Corbin as the Lone Wolf hung off the ring apron, then took him off the apron with a knee drop. He walked up the ramp to get a running start, but his intended move was stuffed by a big clothesline. Corbin rolled Nakamura inside the ring for a near fall as we head to commercial.
Going split screen, we get the puppy-monkey-baby commercial as Corbin hurled Nakamura back outside the ring. Corbin rammed Nakamura’s back into the barrier. He broke the referee’s count, then walked Nakamura around the ring’s exterior to throw him twice into the barrier on the other side. Back inside, Corbin punished him with right hands. Nakamura fired back with punches, then countered a Deep Six attempt with a cross-armbreaker. Corbin freed his left arm, only to find himself battling a triangle choke. He lifted Nakamura into the air to counter that move, but was then trapped in a guillotine choke. Corbin countered this third submission maneuver by suplexing Nakamura without letting his opponent touch the ground. Impressive power from Corbin, who grounded Nakamura as we return from break.
Corbin dipped outside and back into the ring after Nakamura evaded his turnbuckle charge, then missed a clothesline and ate a flying kick. Nakamura threw kicks into Corbin’s chest and gut, then floored him with a straight kick to the chest. Nakamura swung knees into Corbin, then elevated him onto the top rope to slam a knee into his stomach. JBL said Nakamura was trained personally by Antonio Inoki. Nakamura ascended the second turnbuckle, then drove a knee into Corbin for a two-count. Back up, Corbin sidestepped the Kinshasa, ducked two kicks, then … executed a sloppy chokeslam that was likely supposed to be a backbreaker. That move got another two count. Frustrated, Corbin stole Nakamura’s driving knees as Shinsuke was on all fours, then stepped on his throat as he mocked him with an off-brand Good Vibrations.
Corbin laughed as he beat Nakamura into the corner. He once again slid outside the ring and reentered as Nakamura eluded him, and hit Deep Six for another near fall. Corbin had to lift Nakamura’s dead weight to get him off the canvas. Once he was back up, Nakamura backflipped out of the End of Days. Corbin ran at Nakamura and slammed into the top turnbuckle after his opponent moved away. Nakamura kicked Corbin in the back of the skull, then avoided a mule kick to the groin (the move which got Corbin disqualified at Battleground). Nakamura took out Corbin’s right knee with a kick, and followed with a nasty running knee into the back of Corbin’s neck as the Lone Wolf tried to stand. Nakamura signaled for the Kinshasa, then hit it for the win.
Result: Shinsuke Nakamura pinned Baron Corbin after hitting the Kinshasa.
Saxton promoted the triple threat U.S. championship match, reiterating JBL’s comment that it was one of the biggest main events in SmackDown history. JBL himself said that Jinder Mahal would demand a SummerSlam opponent later in the broadcast.
Back from break, Dasha Fuentes interviewed WWE Women’s Champion Naomi backstage. She asked Naomi how she felt about her SummerSlam challenger, Natalya, refusing to shake her hand after the five-way elimination match at Battleground. Naomi said Natalya is tough as nails, but she didn’t appreciate her disrespect. Natalya crashed the interview, then ended it by ejecting Fuentes. She told Naomi that she’d tarnished everything that a WWE championship stands for. Natalya claimed she’d turned the title belt into a kid’s toy. She also said that Naomi had no respect for legends like the Hart Family, and proclaimed she’d restore honor back to the women’s division by taking the championship at SummerSlam. Naomi said Natalya was stuck “in that dirty dungeon of the past.” She claimed that her title represented the future, and that she’d added a little piece of herself to the belt. Naomi vowed that, at SummerSlam, Natalya would be blinded by the glow.
As Natalya turned and left, a knocking sound harkened from behind Naomi. It was Carmella, rapping on the Money in the Bank briefcase and sporting a Free Ellsworth shirt. She told Naomi that she and the contract were just looking to the future. As Carmella left, Tom Phillips said that Naomi would have to have eyes in the back of her head to see all challenges coming.
Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch vs. Tamina and Lana
Flair and Lynch clinked air teacups, looking unimpressed with their competition as this match got underway. A replay reminded us that Lynch eliminated both of her current opponents at Battleground. Lynch almost locked in the Dis-Arm-Her right off the bat, leading Lana to frantically tag out. JBL said he’d never heard a match start with screaming. Tamina and Lynch exchanged shoves, then Lynch schoolboy’ed her larger opponent and hit a spin kick. Tamina shoved Lynch away from a Dis-Arm-Her attempt, then picked up and drove her into the turnbuckle. Lynch tried to counter, but Tamina dumped the Lasskicker onto her face for a two-count. Lana called out for the tag once her opponent was damaged. She hit a snap suplex on Lynch for a two-count. JBL said that Lana is a neophyte who alternately shows flashes of brilliance and looks like she doesn’t belong in the ring.
Lana flung Lynch to the mat by her hair, then brought her back to her team’s corner. She whipped Lynch into a Tamina clothesline. Becky created separation with an enziguri, then tagged Charlotte. Flair took down both her opponents, hitting Tamina with a flurry of chops. She strutted her stuff, then took Tamina to the mat with a falling knee drop. Tamina temporarily stopped Charlotte with a big kick that grazed her. Lana tagged herself in, and was hit by a big boot for an abrupt ending.
Result: Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch beat Tamina and Lana when Flair pinned Lana after a big boot.
After the match, Tamina yelled at Lana from ringside. Lana trailed her out of the ring, looking like a chastened child. Phillips said that Mahal would demand a SummerSlam challenger after the break. Please not Round 4 with Randy Orton.
Back at ringside, Saxton said the Punjabi Prison match “took brutality to a whole new level.” We get a video package, featuring a lot of still photos, on the match from two days ago. We see a partial replay of that hellacious Samir Singh bump off the prison through the table. JBL said Mahal’s plan worked perfectly at Battleground. Mahal walked to the ring alone. He said he crushed Orton’s legacy, and the legend of the Modern Day Maharaja was born. Like the Richmond fans, he said, Orton underestimated the WWE champion. Mahal promised to keep his championship as long as he desired. He demanded to know his opponent for SummerSlam. He also demanded silence as he spoke Punjabi to his Indian fans. This foreign-language monologue included John Cena’s name. Will Jinder get through this entire speech? No, he will not, as Cena’s music played. Why did Mahal name-check Cena directly before his theme song hit? WWE shouldn’t have telegraphed that development.
Cena earned a big crowd reaction, and greeted the crowd by getting interrupted by Mahal, who cut him off with, “The Maharaja wasn’t finished.” Clever, low-key delivery from Jinder here. He voiced what he believed Cena was going to tell him about Mahal being an undeserving champion and needing help from three other people to retain the title. Cena silenced him. He told Mahal that he was “a piece of crap” as a mind-reader. He claimed he wouldn’t have said any of those things. As a matter of fact, Cena is the one guy who would congratulate Mahal on his accomplishments. He put Jinder over as being in the best shape of his life, and said he respected that the WWE championship meant so much to him that he’ll do whatever is necessary to keep it.
Then, Cena said his message also served as a heads-up. They’ve never been formally introduced, Cena said, as he made a funny crack about Jinder possibly only knowing his voice from pistachio commercials. But Cena said he doesn’t care if Mahal has a giant, a band of merry men, the Singh Brothers, the Singh Sisters, the cast of Sing!, Jinder’s mom, his dad, a magic carpet, a palace, a prison, or a port-a-potty. Cena said none of it would be enough, because, at SummerSlam, Mahal would face Super Cena. He vowed to walk out of SummerSlam the 17-time world champion. Strong delivery from an ultra-confident challenger.
As Cena walked up the ramp, he was interrupted by Daniel Bryan’s music. Bryan congratulated both competitors for winning their Battleground matches. He told Cena that he was on a quest to make history, but he doesn’t make the matches. Bryan said that opportunities were earned on SmackDown, even if your name is John Cena. Therefore, on next week’s show, he would face a man who performed brilliantly earlier tonight: Shinsuke Nakamura. The winner of that “dream match” would face Mahal at SummerSlam for the WWE championship.
JBL agreed that this fight would be a dream match-up. Interesting for Bryan to throw cold water on Cena’s challenge (and perhaps his arrogance in demanding a title match so soon after his return). Saxton said a tag-team match featuring Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger vs. Mike Kanellis and Aiden English would take place next.
Shane McMahon spoke to an unknown party on his cell phone before Kevin Owens ended the call. Owens stressed over his triple threat match. He told McMahon to just admit that he didn’t want Owens as champion. Owens said Jericho wanted revenge after KO had him carted off on a stretcher the last time Y2J was on SmackDown, and that Styles couldn’t get over that he wasn’t as good as Owens. He said the triple threat match was unfair to him. McMahon said that both competitors have rematches coming to them. He agreed that he and KO don’t like each other, and said he only cared about having the U.S. title defended live on SmackDown. Owens said he didn’t give a damn about SmackDown’s audience, and wouldn’t give a damn about McMahon if he wasn’t the commissioner. The two men stared each down as we go back to the ring for Aiden English’s crooning.
English declared himself the Shakespeare of Song, the Maestro of Mayhem, the Picasso of Pain, and the Drama King. He skipped the Mozart of Melody moniker, which is good, because Mozart was the Mozart of Melody. English said he hits like a rock, but sings like a dove; for tonight, he is joined by the power of love. Saxton questioned what it would be like to get stuck behind English in the karaoke queue. JBL said English was like John Legend crossed with Fit Finlay.
Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger vs. Mike Kanellis and Aiden English
Phillips brought up Dillinger’s loss to English on the Battleground pre-show. The two men tied up to start the match. Tye caught English’s boot on an attempted cheap shot and chopped him, then floored English with an elbow. He tagged Zayn, who delivered a shot to English’s arm off the second rope as we head into split-screen. Sami springboarded off the ropes over English and took him down with the flying headscissors. A wobbly English kicked back at Zayn, then tagged out. Kanellis ran straight into a Zayn clothesline. He held onto the ropes on an Irish whip, and elbowed Zayn in the face. Instead of following up, however, Kanellis bailed to ringside to escape an angry Sami. Maria stood in harm’s way, pleading with Zayn to spare her man. This gave English the opening to smash his boot heel into Zayn’s face, then pick up his opponent and slam him into the ring apron.
Back in the ring, English showed spirit in striking Sami, then tagged out to allow Kanellis to stomp him down. Mike and Maria pointed lovingly at each other. Kanellis rocked Sami with right hands in the corner, dropping him for a two count. English tagged in, targeting Sami’s ribs. His flouncy conductor motions preceded a running turnbuckle charge, and English concluded the commercial break by trapping Zayn in a rear chinlock. He prevented Zayn from tagging out, then brought him back to his team’s corner. Kanellis reentered, slugging Sami with two clotheslines in the corner and landing a big boot off the ropes for another two-count. English tagged back in, booting Sami as Kanellis held their foe’s ankle.
Zayn fired back on English with forearms, then played matador by waving at English as he charged past Sami and out of the ring. Zayn finally tagged Dillinger, who dropped English with lefts and a big back-body-drop. Kanellis entered to eat rapid-fire strikes and a stomp to the face. Tye mounted the middle rope to hit Kanellis with left hands (each of them the tenth shot, according to the Richmond fans), then jumped off the turnbuckle to neutralize English with a double axhandle. Dillinger tagged Zayn and went up top to jump over both opponents. He booted a charging English in the corner, then suckered in Kanellis, who missed a move and promptly took a Helluva Kick for the pinfall. JBL intoned, “Love is dead.” Two clean, televised losses for Kanellis in three nights do not bode well for his immediate career so soon after debuting.
Result: Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger beat Mike Kanellis and Aiden English when Zayn pinned Kanellis after a Helluva Kick.
Backstage, New Day posed for photographs with their tag team championship belts. Xavier Woods grabbed his trombone as the trio walked toward the ring.
Update: They didn’t make it. Big E got midway through his pre-entrance soliloquy when grunts and fighting noises broke out behind the curtain. A cameraman ran up to the ramp to catch the action as the Usos assaulted New Day. The twins beat up Woods and Kofi Kingston as the announce team surmised that they must have jumped Big E backstage. Woods had his face smashed into the floor as Kingston was thrown into the edge of a video board. Saxton called the attack an absolute ambush. Big E ran out to help his teammates, but fell victim to a superkick, then tandem kicks from Jimmy and Jey. Good time for the Usos to display their ruthlessness ahead of a likely SummerSlam bout. These two teams wrestled a terrific match at Battleground, and this attack helped to raise tensions for their next fight.
The announce team plugged next week’s match between Cena and Nakamura. The latter stood outside his locker room with Renee Young, who asked him how felt about “this first-time-ever dream match.” We heard an untimely “New Day Rocks” chant from the arena fans who were likely seeing the tag team champions hauled off toward the locker room. Nakamura told Cena that, next week, “you can’t see me.” Which meant Shinsuke would see Mahal at SummerSlam.
Kevin Owens (champion) vs. AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho (U.S. Championship Triple Threat Match)
Both faces ran at Owens to pummel him in the corner. They floored him with a double-team shot, then Jericho got a quick two-count by rolling up Styles. Another rollup led into a series of pinfall attempts by both men. Owens broke up this wrestling exhibition by punching Styles in the face, then booting him out of the ring. Owens and Jericho came face to face. Phillips said this confrontation was three months in the making for Y2J as the two men slammed right hands into each other’s heads. Jericho booted Owens, who stifled attempts at a Codebreaker and the Walls of Jericho. Y2J rebounded to hit a dropkick off the middle rope for a one count. Styles rejoined the fray, tossing Jericho over the top rope. Jericho caught himself on the apron, but was waylaid by Styles as he ran toward the turnbuckle to presumably launch a high-flying move. With Jericho writhing on the concrete, Owens clotheslined Styles and took over.
Owens threw right hands at Styles’ face, then stomped at him when he tried to rise. He threw AJ ribs first into the top turnbuckle on a hard Irish whip. Owens launched more strikes at a prone Styles, giving the sense that he was taking this title defense personally. Owens punched Jericho off the apron before squashing Styles with a running senton. A low dropkick led to a two count on Styles. Owens rolled outside the ring to put the boots to Jericho and keep the in-ring competition down to himself and one opponent. Back inside, AJ responded with strikes, but ran into an Owens elbow off the ropes. Owens sent AJ into the ropes for a pop-up powerbomb, but AJ held on and locked a pursuing Owens in the Calf Crusher. Jericho broke up the move with a Lionsault, getting a two count on Styles.
We resume the action after the commercial break (strangely, the American SmackDown broadcasts show all matches except main events on split-screen during these breaks). All three men were recovering from punishment received, with Jericho doing so outside the ring. Styles stomped Owens and chopped Jericho, who responded with a high back-body-drop. Jericho threw Styles into the corner and hit him with a running clothesline. He perched Styles on the top rope for a superplex. Owens grabbed Jericho in an electric chair, lifting him away from the turnbuckle, but Jericho countered it into a Walls of Jericho attempt from which Owens freed himself. Owens clocked Jericho with a right, then ran at Styles, who was stuck on the ring apron. AJ pulled down the top rope, sending Owens sprawling onto the concrete. Styles saw Jericho on the mat, and poised himself for a springboard 450 splash. He nailed the move, but Owens squirmed back into the ring and ridded it of AJ, then covered Jericho for a near fall.
As Owens reacted in disbelief that he didn’t get the win, AJ pulled him out of the ring and threw him into the barricade. Styles reentered the ring to attempt the Styles Clash on Jericho. Y2J countered his move into the Walls of Jericho. When Owens tried to break up the move, Jericho took him down and slingshot him into Styles, knocking AJ out of the ring. Jericho then locked Owens in the Walls. JBL said that Jericho came back to get Kevin Owens and the U.S. championship, and he may be about to get both right now. Jericho broke the hold to stun an interfering Styles with a Codebreaker. Jericho covered Styles, who kicked out in the nick of time. Y2J stayed on Styles with strikes, then a couple of slaps. This disrespect angered Styles, who missed a spinning backfist and was then floored by a forearm. Jericho lined up another Lionsault, but Owens resurfaced to trip Jericho, who fell hard onto the mat.
Seething, Owens bounded into both men with cannonballs. AJ got up first to hit KO with a running forearm. Jericho landed an enziguri on Styles, then received a superkick himself from Owens, who absorbed a Pele kick from Styles. Extended fan applause as all three men sold the effects of their kicks. Styles and Jericho made it to their feet. Styles tried to springboard onto Jericho, but Y2J sprung up on the middle rope and dropkicked him, sending Styles crashing ribs first across the top rope. Owens took advantage of their interaction by superkicking Jericho again, then throwing him into the ropes and sticking him with a pop-up powerbomb. That Y2J kicked out of. Owens stared in shock at the referee. Frustrated, he climbed the top rope to try to end the match, hitting a frog splash. AJ grabbed Owens, breaking up the cover and tossing him under the ropes. Styles then covered Jericho for the win as Owens watched slack-jawed and disbelieving from the ring apron.
The new titleholder held up the championship belt while an irate Owens trashed the ringside area. KO grabbed the microphone as AJ celebrated on the entrance ramp. He told everyone to shut up and listen to him. He yelled that this was unfair. It was unfair that Jericho showed up, McMahon forced him to defend the championship in a triple threat match, and Styles stole his victory. And it’s not fair that Richmond fans dislike KO just because he’s better than they ever will be. But it would be fair for Owens to receive his championship rematch next week in a one-on-one match. Whether the idiot fans liked it or not, Owens said, he was taking his title back. A bloody-lipped Styles held up the championship belt in defiance. JBL said that next week’s show would be one of the biggest SmackDown episodes in history.
Result: AJ Styles pinned Chris Jericho after Kevin Owens hit Jericho with a top-rope frogsplash. Styles wins the U.S. championship.
A great surprise that brought back one of WWE’s most consistent performers of the last year (and, really, the last 25 years). Jericho still finds new ways to excel on the mic and engage live crowds. Although I’m curious as to why Styles, his betrayed former tag team partner (in the late, lamented Y2AJ), would claim to be happy to see him again.
Nakamura vs. Corbin
Shinsuke continued to wrestle, act, and be received as a special superstar inside the ring. Corbin gave a strong outing and showed he’ll be ready for bigger things down the road.
Mahal gets a new opponent
Cena or Nakamura would make desirable opponents for Mahal simply because they elicit fan reaction. Either superstar will make people care about a feud with Jinder, and give the WWE championship picture some juice heading into one of WWE’s biggest pay-per-views.
Lana’s transition to wrestling (thus far)
We thought we were getting Eva Marie 2.0, an undeserving bombshell whose back-up muscle would make her a threat to established superstars. Instead, the Ravishing Russian has been booked to look increasingly weak and in over her head during the past month. Unless there’s a specific plan for her development, this current creative direction may not be the correct use of her considerable talent (especially given that Rusev seems similarly adrift).
A surprise return defined this show, and the Cena vs. Nakamura announcement set the stage for a big match next week. Cena brought incredible assurance to his in-ring promo. He’ll likely be called upon early in next week’s broadcast to sell his match against Nakamura, who’s getting an important opportunity to shine against the franchise. The triple threat main event was the best SmackDown match I’ve reviewed so far. We’ll see how long Jericho sticks around; a Y2J feud with Corbin could benefit the Lone Wolf as he develops into a main-eventer.