Traditionally, WWE's so-called "go-home" shows (the final week of TV before a PPV) were a must-see event. After all, this was the last chance the company had to get you excited for the event and shell out the cash to watch the big show on Sunday.
In the days since the launch of the WWE Network, the go-home format has gotten watered down. No longer do the broadcasts feel any more urgent than your typical WWE television show, though the company does sometimes pull some last minute twists and turns prior to the PPV event itself.
With SmackDown in that traditional role this week, would we get anything different? Was there any surprises heading into this week's Hell In A Cell show?
Come along as we take our weekly look back at this week's edition of SmackDown. It's been a while since I've done one of these, but for the time being, "Five Thoughts" will be back each and every week following SmackDown Live to give you a sometimes analytical, sometimes humorous, and sometimes sarcastic view of what went down on the blue brand.
SmackDown opened with a promo from Jeff Hardy to build his match with Randy Orton this Sunday at Hell In A Cell. Saying the crowd was into it would be like saying asbestos is popular.
As Hardy paused throughout the promo, the crowd was deathly quiet. Awkwardly quiet, even. The term "you could hear a pin drop" is overused but I really can't think of a descriptor that would serve this segment better.
The crowd reaction wasn't helped by the delivery, which came across like rambling cliches that lacked real emotion or urgency. Hardy talked about having to deal with demons throughout his life and said Orton is his most venomous demon yet. He said he has prepared his whole life for this and will unleash a lifetime of pain and torment on Randy.
Following the promo, Hardy wrestled Nakamura in a match that was advertised in advance for this week's show. It was a lengthy contest, complete with two commercial breaks. The conclusion saw Hardy hit a Twist of Fate and go up top for the Swanton, but out came Orton to push him off the top turnbuckle for the DQ.
Orton followed that up with a beat down on the outside of the ring, slamming Hardy's head into the ring steps. Orton brought Hardy into the ring and used a chair to slam against Hardy's back several times. He went for an RKO, but Hardy escaped and used the chair on Orton before hitting a Twist of Fate and Swanton.
This had a lot more crowd response than the promo that started all of this 25 minutes earlier.
The WWE Champion spoke to us from an empty arena this week, having been filmed speaking directly to the camera from the ringside steps earlier in the day before the fans arrived.
It was a different look than your typical WWE promo, felt incredibly fresh, and served the point well of continuing to build momentum to what has been a deeply personal feud between Styles and Joe.
Styles spoke about how Joe made the feud personal in the first place, mentioning the fact that he brought his wife and his three year old daughter into the fray. Styles said "this is the house that AJ Styles built and it damn sure isn't for sale."
Very effective and well done.
Later in the show, Samoa Joe had a backstage promo where he told everyone he was going to tell a story. He held up a children's book titled "Night Night, AJ." Joe read through a very well written narrative that was interspersed with clips of their feud thus far. It was really, really good. The closing page was an illustration of Joe with Styles' wife and daughter.
Joe continues to prove he is one of the best promos in the company and AJ has held up his end as well. This should be an excellent match on Sunday which has been built up about as good as humanly possible. My only complaint is this one should be inside the Hell In A Cell rather than Hardy vs. Orton.
As she prepares to defend the SmackDown Women's Championship against Becky Lynch this Sunday at Hell In A Cell, Charlotte Flair was in action this week against Sonja Deville. Of course, this all served as filler until Lynch ran out to confront her opponent.
The match itself wasn't bad. There were some good moments where Deville would go for a take down or submission, but Charlotte would counter it and Deville would get visibly frustrated. The finishing sequence came when Deville went for a submission
After the match, Flair celebrated at ringside with the fans until Lynch attacked her, sitting ringside in disguise. Lynch removed the wig and glasses and hit some kids on the entrance way before locking Flair in the Dis-Arm-Her on the stage until a referee broke it up.
There were sustained "Becky!" chants following the appearance, as there have been every week since they tried turning her heel. Luckily they have backed off of pushing her as such and she's kind of become the anti-authority, cool heel that she can excel as.
The Bar faced Aiden English and Rusev this week for a chance to face The New Day for their tag team championships Sunday at Hell In A Cell. It was the final contest of a three week tournament to determine the number one contenders.
The match was hard to get invested in early due to the fact that they had two separate commercial breaks within a span of about five minutes.
The New Day were doing guest commentary on the match, just as they have been doing throughout the contest, prompting my wife to ask "I wonder how many pancakes they go through on a show? Seems like a waste." Hard to argue with her there.
The last few moments of the match did build some heat with the crowd. Rusev and English took turns being worked over by Cesaro in Sheamus on their half of the ring, with The Bar using the classic tag team strategy of cutting the ring in half while the losing team build toward the hot tag. It worked.
Rusev got that tag and went to town. He hit a big knee to the abdomen and kick for a near fall. He followed that up with the Accolade before Sheamus broke it up and was promptly pushed to the outside by Rusev. Rusev charged in at Cesaro but ran into an uppercut. Sheamus was then tagged in as The Bar gave Rusev a Double DDT.
A weary Rusev continued to try to fight off both men. Sheamus came in for the Brogue Kick, but English pushed Rusev out of the way and took the kick for his partner. A stunned Sheamus was then hit with a Machka Kick and Rusev covered him for the pinfall, setting up an encounter with The New Day on Sunday.
This was Maryse's first singles match on SmackDown in seven years, as pointed out by the commentators prior to the bout.
That's certainly exciting, but the excitement pretty much ended there with this one.
The first few minutes consisted of Maryse continually dodging Brie. This prompted Bella to get on the ring and say "Maryse, we always knew you were a coward." Miz then got on the mic and asked "You think we're cowards? Understand that you don't deserve to be in the same ring as my wife." He talked about Maryse being a two-time Divas Champion and long reigning champion and noted it has only been five months since she has given birth (true and rather impressive).
Miz said neither Brie Bella nor the city they were in deserves the match. He declared the match over and the two went to walk out. Brie ran up the ramp and caught Maryse from behind and dragged her back to the ring and tossed her into the ring apron, face first, over and over.
As a confrontation between Bryan and Miz seemed likely on the outside, a distracted Bella got hit by a kick from Maryse for a near fall. Not long after, seemingly out of nowhere, Bella locked in the Yes Lock. This prompted Miz to drag Brie out of the ring for a DQ, with Bella hitting the ground hard on the outside.0comments
Bryan and Miz got into a fight around ringside and into the ring, ending with Miz tossing Bryan over the top to the outside and into Brie. A shocked Bryan knelt over his wife asking for help and Miz took the opportunity to attack him from behind.
They fought back into the ring, but Brie and Bryan got the upper hand. Bryan hit his Yes Kicks and Brie hit a stiff punch to Miz. As Miz and Maryse walked off, Bryan and Brie lead the crowd in "Yes!" chants to close the show.
Other Brief Thoughts on the Show
- Andrade 'Cien' Almas continued his hot streak, this time with a win over R-Truth. Almas certainly has bigger fish to fry coming off a recent (excellent) match with Daniel Bryan and it should be exciting to see him work his way up the card.
- That new WWE Custom Tees option on the WWE Shop is a tremendous idea.
- They held a 11 Bell Salute at the start of the show in remembrance of September 11, 2001 which was a very nice touch.