We eat your words

WWE SmackDown Live Full Results, Grades and Highlights for May 23, 2017

Jinder Mahal's first Smackdown Live show as WWE Champion, plus the Money in the Bank stage is set.

INTRO: A photographic retrospective of Jinder Mahal beating Randy Orton for the WWE championship at Backlash. Shocked fan reactions and headlines from various websites (including two Indian publications) aired to highlight the title change. The feature closed with Byron Saxton asking, “What does this mean for SmackDown Live?”

OPENING SEGMENT: Tom Phillips welcomed viewers by announcing “Absolute shock throughout the WWE Universe” due to Mahal’s win. JBL reiterated that the title change “shocked the world”, but his words were interrupted by wailing sirens. Cameras outside the arena showed a police motorcade escorting a black Ford SUV and white limousine. The Singh Brothers stepped out of the SUV and unrolled a carpet for the Maharaja, clad in a three-piece suit as he stepped out of the limo. Mahal chuckled as he gazed at the championship draped over his shoulder.

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Back in the arena, SmackDown commissioner Shane McMahon made his way to the ring. Saxton said that Mahal is now SmackDown’s “posterboy” for opportunity. The announce team stressed this theme throughout the night. As the blue Money in the Bank briefcase hung over the ring, McMahon said Orton has invoked his rematch clause, and would receive a return bout in his hometown of St. Louis at that June pay-per-view. Furthermore, five SmackDown superstars would compete in the Money in the Bank ladder match itself to fight for a guaranteed contract to face the WWE Champion. McMahon introduced the match’s participants: AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, and Kevin Owens. Who is immediately told by McMahon that he’s not included in the match. As Owens stood dejected in the aisle, out strutted Shinsuke Nakamura, whom JBL called the “most unique superstar in the history of WWE”. As all five competitors stood assembled in the ring, Owens interrupted McMahon to demand an explanation for his exclusion. He wondered why the guy he beat at Backlash (Styles) got named to the Money in the Bank match. Owens claimed he may have been ignored due to McMahon’s favoritism, then posited that he was left out because he did what McMahon couldn’t do at WrestleMania by beating Styles.

McMahon told KO that he made some salient points. Due to Owens’ Backlash win and status as U.S. Champion, McMahon added him to the ladder match. That’s an interesting way for a manager to deal with a subordinate employee. Owens responded gleefully until Corbin confronted him and told him to stop talking. The Lone Wolf warned Owens that he’d pay for his whining and crying, then declared that the rest of the participants stood no chance against him. Corbin demanded that McMahon lower the briefcase and hand it to him. Styles told Corbin that, “before you huff and you puff and you continue to blow”, he needs to remember that this is the house that AJ Styles built. He told Owens that the house wasn’t built by count outs and cheap shots, then compared KO to Eric Cartman. Styles said he’d show the world that he is SmackDown’s franchise player by claiming the briefcase and reclaiming “his” WWE championship.

Zayn interrupted to say that he didn’t come to SmackDown to watch Styles run victory laps. Corbin cut him off to tell Zayn that he was running high off his “fluke” victory at Backlash, then called him the “Rudy of SmackDown Live”. He proceeded to channel Roger Ebert in issuing a clear-eyed review of that film:

“It was some guy that made some play while the garbage players were in, and he’s living off of it for the rest of his pathetic life.” – Noted film critic Baron Corbin on Rudy.

Zayn played point/counterpoint with Corbin’s take on their match. As Corbin dubbed the finish a fluke, Zayn described it as “kicking you in the face and pinning you in the middle of the ring.” Sami told Corbin he had no problem going double-or-nothing in a rematch, and they didn’t need to wait until Money in the Bank to fight again. Owens told them both to shut up, then Ziggler told him to shut up. The Showoff told his adversaries that he’s the only one of them to actually win Money in the Bank, and he’ll be damned if he’s not going to do it again. Nakamura strode over to coolly take Ziggler’s microphone. He introduced himself to his opponents, then told Ziggler he could call him Mr. Money in the Bank. Cheers for Nakamura as he pointed toward the briefcase.

McMahon regained control, booking a Backlash rematch between Corbin and Zayn. Rounding out the show would be a main event tag team match featuring Owens and Ziggler against Styles and Nakamura.

Charlotte/Becky Lynch vs. Natalya/Carmella

Lynch started the match with side-headlock takeovers of Carmella. She nailed Carmella with a dropkick as Charlotte hit Natalya with the same move to clear the ring. For the first time on SmackDown Live, the match continued to air (sans commentary) on the left-side of the screen during a commercial break. Carmella began barking at someone ringside, allowing Lynch to blindside her with a baseball slide. The Lasskicker rolled Carmella inside the ring, but was tripped by Natalya as she bounded off the ropes. Carmella took over on offense, moonwalking before launching a broncobuster onto Lynch.

Natalya continued to work over Becky with a suplex, then tagged Carmella to deliver tandem boots to Lynch’s midsection. Natalya did a fine job of cutting the ring in half and preventing a few hot tags. Eventually, Lynch kicked away from a sharpshooter attempt and tagged in Charlotte. The queen gained a near fall with several strikes and a neckbreaker, then ascended the turnbuckle. Tamina got on the apron to distract her, then was met by a cross body block from Naomi. Natalya recovered to hit a belly-to-back suplex on Charlotte. This move threw Charlotte towards her corner, however, where Lynch tagged in and sent Natalya flying across the ring with a missile dropkick. Back in her own corner, Natalya tagged Carmella, who got trapped in the Dis-arm-her. Naomi cleared Ellsworth off the ring apron as Carmella tapped out.

Result: Charlotte/Lynch defeated Carmella/Natalya via submission when Lynch tapped out Carmella.

Grade: B-

The announcers promised a “Punjabi Celebration” for Mahal later in the broadcast. Zayn vs. Corbin is up next.

Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin

We returned from commercial to find both men already standing in the ring and Zayn’s music playing. An odd visual despite both competitors already receiving full entrances in the opening segment. JBL stated that the MITB contract “virtually guarantees” that the winner will become the WWE champion. Corbin bulled Zayn into the corner to start the match, then hurled him across the ring with a beel throw. As he picked up his opponent, Zayn darted behind him and executed a rollup for a surprising quick win.

Result: Sami Zayn pinned Baron Corbin.

Grade: D
The unexpectedly fast ending led to an outburst of cheers from the Toledo crowd, who likely saw Corbin’s sour grapes attack coming before Zayn did. Corbin stomped Zayn before throwing him out of the ring. He struck Zayn with forearms and threw him into the timekeeper’s area. Corbin yelled “Stay back!” at the referee, then bashed his opponent with a steel chair. Corbin grinned sadistically, mounting Zayn to continue pummeling him with forearms. JBL said that Corbin had “absolutely lost it.” Corbin picked Zayn up and tossed him into a barricade out in the crowd. He told Zayn that “You asked for this”, then delivered more strikes to his defenseless foe’s head. Corbin eventually skulked off toward the locker room as referees called for a stretcher.

Saxton touted the upcoming SmackDown Live in-ring debut of Nakamura later in the show. Phillips said that Breezango would feature in perhaps the last Fashion File ever.

Back from commercial, the announce team replayed the Corbin assault. JBL said that Corbin has issues, pointing out that he’d been suspended for hitting a referee several weeks back. He said that Corbin could be a future champion, but he has to regain control of himself. Strange to hear an ostensibly heel announcer criticize Corbin for crossing a line in his behavior. Phillips said he hoped to have an update on Zayn’s condition later in the broadcast.

Styles approached Nakamura backstage to welcome him to the blue brand. He acknowledged their history, telling his rival that they were “on top of the world” back in Japan, and that tonight would mark the first time they joined forces as tag team partners. Styles kept his heel edge by then ordering Nakamura to follow his lead. Nakamura acknowledged that they’d be a team tonight. But, at Money in the Bank, Nakamura said that he’d turn Styles’ house into his own playground.

The Fashion Files – Final File aired as we were relocated to the Toledo Fashion Department. This week’s bulletin board material included the Mean Street Posse (wanted for gang activity), recidivist lowlife Tony Chimel (whose number of chins remains unknown), Luke Harper (shops at “Big & Tall & Beardy”), Chris Jericho (labeled as “fuzzy”), and Freddie Blassie (labeled as “genius”). The camera panned back to reveal Shane McMahon, who looked suitably confused.

Breezango entered the scene as Tyler Breeze carried a box of his belongings, which included the grandma wig from his team’s Backlash match. Fandango commented on commissioner McMahon shaving his mustache; McMahon awkwardly said he never had a mustache. He then clarified that he also never asked Breezango to meet him. Fandango ignored this statement, telling McMahon they know he summoned the team to request that they turn over their badges after their loss to the Usos. As Fandango said, “Their day one was just a little more H than ours.”

Examining one of the badges, McMahon asked if Breezango if they know they aren’t actually cops. Fandango said his father keeps telling him the same thing, and he’s starting to think they’re both right. He and Breeze turned in their “loaded” toy guns, a lint roller, and some of their clothes before McMahon prevented them from completely disrobing on-camera. McMahon told the duo they’d already proved they belong on SmackDown. He informed Breezango they’d be taking on the Usos on singles matches tonight. Back on the case, Breeze and Fandango took back their belongings (and snuck a donut) as McMahon shot off one of the water pistols.

Back at ringside, Phillips announced that preparations were being made for the 50th WWE Champion ever, as crew members set up decorations to mark Mahal’s championship victory.

SmackDown returned with the lights off and a drum ringing out in the darkness. A dozen dancers sparked a colorful celebration on the entrance platform, then made their way down the aisle. The Singhs strode through the performers, then turned back to welcome the Maharaja. Mahal showed off his WWE championship belt as he walked to the ring. This entrance just begs for the Indian announce team’s commentary to mark the moment.

Mahal entered the ring as JBL claimed he’d never seen anything like this “majestic” spectacle. He said that 1.3 billion people are celebrating in Jinder’s home country, and called him “the pride of India.” As the music and dancing ceased, Mahal raised the championship to a decent amount of cheering. He told the fans they could shower him with their hatred, but it wouldn’t change the fact that over a billion people in India are celebrating his title win. Mahal complained that fans booed him because of how he looks and talks, but now they boo him because he exposed them for fools. He said the fans didn’t believe he could beat Orton, but the Maharaja has “enlightened” them and become WWE champion.

Mahal said that Orton is just like America – “on the decline”. Tough to rebut that statement nowadays. But the Maharaja is on the rise, and bragged that he is “already the greatest WWE Champion of all time.” The dancers, now surrounding the ring, applauded Mahal’s boasting. He hammered home that he was celebrating not for Toledo (or Dayton, or Akron, or Zanesville, or any other medium-sized town in Ohio), but for Punjab and India. Mahal spoke in Punjabi, prompting a “USA” chant that never coalesced properly and some impressive fireworks near the entrance ramp and over the ring. Plus, this stellar quote from JBL:

“The country that has given us Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa has now given us the greatest champion of them all: Jinder Mahal.”

Saxton said that what once seemed “unimaginable” has now come to pass. JBL shushed him, encouraging him to celebrate the first WWE Champion of Indian descent. Phillips plugged the tag-team main event featuring four Money in the Bank combatants.

Back from commercial, a Lana vignette aired. She danced on and around a chair in various costumes, and her reappearance is coming soon.

Tyler Breeze vs. Jey Uso

After being reprieved from cleaning out their desks, Breeze carried the team’s box of wacky items to the ring. No sign of the dress that pelted JBL at Backlash. Uso took the mic after the bell sounded, telling Breeze that his team already beat the fashion police at Backlash. Fandango crept up from behind on the ring apron to fire his water pistol at Uso. This distraction allowed Breeze to roll up Uso from behind for the three count. Uce never even removed his “DAY ONE ISH” hoodie.

Result: Breeze pinned Uso in a one-move match.

Grade: D-

Fandango vs. Jimmy Uso

This follow-up match started immediately, as Fandango put away his water gun to do battle. Uso landed some loud right hands to Fandango’s face. Outside the ring, Breeze (now wearing the grandma wig) taunted Jey Uso with some purple plastic handcuffs. This is the second time in three weeks that Prince Pretty has busted out the adult toy store novelty items. Uso gave chase to Breeze, and the champions caught Tyler as he attempted to dip under the bottom rope. Jimmy Uso tore off the hairpiece and whipped it at Breeze, allowing Fandango to – yes – snare Uso with the rollup for the pinfall.

Result: Fandango pinned Uso with the same move we’ve seen end matches twice already tonight. Sami’s match really should’ve ended with a different pinning combination.

Grade: D-

Post-match, Fandango grabbed a mic ringside and told them they look like they were just caught wearing white after Labor Day. Breeze notified them that doing do is a fashion felony, but what isn’t a crime is giving Breezango a rematch for the SmackDown tag team championship. The Usos not only acquiesced to this request, but demanded that the match take place immediately. Jey finally removed his hoodie as referee Mike Chioda appeared to speak to someone in the backstage area (Saxton suggested McMahon) via headset about whether this match should happen. Nice touch of reality there. The word came down that such a match was booked, and the tag team title is now on the line. The crowd popped as Breezango got pumped up for the fight.

The Usos vs. Breezango – SmackDown Tag Team Championship Match

Breeze took a big clothesline to start the match. The Usos double-teamed Breeze in the corner, coming down with a Demolition-style tandem elbow off the top rope. Action slowed dramatically as the brothers kept beating Breeze, ensuring there would not be a third straight quick fall between these team members. Breeze created separation and tagged Fandango, who fired up with jabs and a spin-heel kick. Fandango hit an inspired dropkick/DDT combination on both Usos for a near fall. He went for a falcon arrow, but was instead thrown into the ringpost. The Usos hit stereo superkicks on Breeze as he entered the ring, then served up the same treatment to Fandango. A top rope splash was countered into a small package as Fandango came within an eyelash of getting the three count. JBL claimed he was about to fall victim to apoplexy, which is a more serious medical condition than this match warrants.

Fandango gained his feet and went to the turnbuckle. Jimmy Uso met him there and was knocked off the ropes (but not before Jey Uso made a blind tag). Fandango hit the Last Dance leg drop, but Jey Uso bounded off the adjacent turnbuckle with a big splash a split second right after impact for the victory. Breeze remained on apparent siesta outside the ring. JBL thanked goodness that the Usos seemed to have gotten rid of the fashion files, maybe forever.

Result: The Usos beat Breezango when Jey pinned Fandango. Given the two singles victories that took place just before their title bout, I’m surprised that Breezango wasn’t given this match in a week or at the next pay-per-view.

Grade: B-

After commercial, Natalya asked McMahon for a SmackDown women’s championship match. Carmella and Ellsworth interrupted to cry foul, followed by Lynch and Tamina making their own case. Ellsworth told Tamina that she’s missed out because she’s too busy making googly eyes at him, and made Carmella laugh by telling her stable mate, “I hate to break it to you, but you’re in the friend zone. Duh!” Charlotte quieted the scene, snapping that the only reason the Welcoming Committee exists is because she was about to win the SmackDown women’s championship. McMahon resolved the impasse by booking a fatal five-way elimination match for SmackDown next week. The winner will face Naomi at Money in the Bank.

The Brian Kendrick complained that Akira Tozawa has disrespected him for weeks. Tonight on 205, Kendrick said, they compete in a match where there are no rules to protect him. He vowed to teach Tozawa his final lesson in a street fight. Back at ringside, Styles and Nakamura stood in the ring as Ziggler trash-talked them from ringside. Owen received his full entrance, stepping around his superimposed face on the ramp in walking to the ring. JBL and Saxton pick Ziggler as their favorite to win the Money in the Bank contract, ensuring that this definitely will not happen.

Shinsuke Nakamura & AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens & Dolph Ziggler

Styles and Ziggler started the match with some quick counters, including a Styles dropkick that appeared to hit nothing but air as Ziggler flew onto his back. Nakamura entered and Ziggler responded by tagging Owens. KO informed Nakamura that he is the new face of America, but received repeated strikes in return. Nakamura lined up the Kinshasa, causing Owens to bail as we go to commercial. Which does not include in-ring action for the first time tonight.

Back from break, Nakamura popped the crowd by doing his trademark headrest/arm wave after backing KO into the ropes, then telling Owens to bring it. Nakamura hit two knees on Owens, then charged up for some good vibrations in the corner. Owens dropped Nakamura’s throat across the top rope, then stomped Nakamura down. Ziggler entered and hit a hip-swiveling neckbreaker for a two count. He grounded Nakamura, allowing Owens to take Shinsuke to Chinlock City. The crowd chanted for AJ, so Owens knocked him off the ring apron. Cannonball to Nakamura for a two-count as we again go to commercial.

As we return to action, Nakamura rolled up Ziggler for a close near-fall. That finish cannot happen again tonight. Ziggler charged into the post, giving Nakamura the opening to tag Styles. AJ clouted Ziggler with strikes, culminating in a running forearm. He hit what Phillips called a “fireman’s carry neckbreaker” for a two count. Owens interrupted a Styles Clash attempt, and Ziggler capitalized on the distraction by hotshotting Styles across the top rope. Styles was dumped to the floor, where Owens executed a senton. Owens landed a good-looking running kick to Styles’ back as he sat on the ring apron, then returned to Chinlock City. Phillips snarkily said that Owens was “bringing the action to a halt here in our main event.” KO upped that action level by throwing AJ skyward with a big back body drop.

Ziggler placed Styles atop the turnbuckle. He went for a superplex, but AJ dipped beneath him to escape, then planted Ziggler face first. Nakamura and Owens tag in, with Shinsuke getting the better of their strikes. He hit Owens with a running knee for a near fall. Ziggler broke up the cover and was summarily thrown on his face. Styles neutralized Owens with a Pele kick, but was superkicked by Ziggler. Nakamura knocked Ziggler out of the ring, then blasted Owens with the Kinshasa to win his Smackdown in-ring debut.

Result: Nakamura/Styles beat Owens/Ziggler when Nakamura pinned Owens after a Kinshasa.

Grade: B

The announce team put over Nakamura heavily after the win. Saxton gushed that Nakamura “is unique, he is captivating, he is magical.” Styles perched on the middle turnbuckle, observing the celebration, then stepped down to fist bump his partner. Both men contemplated the Money in the Bank briefcase hanging over the ring, staring each other down as the program as the show ended.

 

HIGH SPOTS

Opening Segment – Each superstar received a verbal showcase for their past accomplishments and hopes of earning the Money in the Bank contract. While 20-minute promos have traditionally been the Raw way of opening shows, this segment effectively highlighted each man’s chances of winning the ladder match, setting up the next several weeks of action for a half-dozen competitors.

Punjabi Championship Celebration (pre-promo) – This event came off as a bigger deal than past celebrations/parties. The drummer and dancers actually received a positive reaction more befitting performers accompanying a face champion. WWE has done a credible job remodeling perceptions of Mahal. This presentation helped him look far more like a world champion than the “air-sitar” playing buffoon who ate numerous pinfalls a few years ago.

 

LOW BLOWS

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Mahal’s promo – Contrary to Mahal’s claims, almost no one booed him because he looks or talks differently than they do. This character positioning feels less like a valid mindset for an arrogant heel champion than an ill-fitting creative direction that WWE fans aren’t buying. Mahal should be viewed as a wealthy elitist looking down on others, not somebody being scorned by those who view him as inferior. His repeated claims of xenophobia detract from the character’s believability and take live crowds out of his appearances.

Abbreviated matches that end via rollup pinning combinations – No more than one per show, please. Definitely not three of them in the space of an hour again.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Mahal is keeping this title until Money in the Bank, and perhaps holding it until Summerslam. WWE invested much in crowning Jinder as champion and making him seem worthy of that elevated position. Hopefully, they’ll find a better explanation for why fans should boo Mahal – his condescending attitude and lackeys’ interference should be enough to earn their contempt. Since the upcoming Money in the Bank ladder match involves many of the brand’s top acts, SmackDown will need to continue stoking these individual feuds for the next four weeks. With Naomi getting an opponent for a pay-per-view title match, we’ll see next week if the Welcoming Committee has run its course. And we’ll also see Orton. While the Viper missed this week’s show after taking a dive Sunday night, he will likely flip back to an on-air role in six days.

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