Tonight’s Smackdown comes at us live from the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, OH, and it’s a stacked card. For the first time ever, John Cena and Shinsuke Nakamura will face off, and the winner will become the #1 Contender to Jinder Mahal’s WWE Championship, facing him at Summerslam. Also, AJ Styles will face Kevin Owens in a rematch for the United States Title, Becky Lynch will team up with Naomi against Natalya and Carmella, and Chad Gable squares off against Rusev in a singles match.
All this plus lots more, starting at 8pm Eastern time. Be sure to follow along here and on Twitter, @RingRap, for complete coverage of the show!
Smackdown opens up with a recap of the US Title Triple Threat Match, which showed AJ Styles picking up the win over Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens. Owens is cashing in his rematch, tonight. Plus, we get clips of Daniel Bryan making the announcement that John Cena will take on Shinsuke Nakamura to determine Jinder Mahal’s challenger at Summerslam. Very epic stuff.
We go to the arena. AJ Styles’ music hits, and he makes his entrance. Seems that we’re opening up with the US Championship Match. Kevin Owens follows out shortly after.
AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens for the WWE United States Championship
Greg Hamilton gives the match a big time championship match feel and announces the participants in the ring.
The Action: Owens cinches on a headlock immediately. He catches Styles with a shoulder block, and goes back into a lock. Styles reverses it. Owens catches Styles from behind and sends him out of the ring. He follows up with a clothesline on the floor as we go to break.
Out of the break, Styles runs head-first into a boot. Owens keeps the pressure. Styles catches him with a nice dropkick in the middle of the ring. Styles unleashes some chops, and a snapmare leading to a kick to the back of the neck. A high knee drop and a cover gives Styles a two-count.
Styles stomps on Owens in the corner. He goes for a Phenomenal Forearm, but Owens bails out of the ring, so Styles leaps over the top rope and nails him with a forearm anyhow. Owens sends Styles into the barricade and hits a cannonball at ringside. We go to another commercial, picture-in-picture.
So, we get a headlock from Owens. Styles fights free. Owens cuts him off with a back body drop for two. The two jockey for position on the apron. The two trade suplex attempts on the apron, but Owens gets the better of the exchange, and a two-count. He cBack from break, Styles hits a flurry of offense. Low running forearm connects. He hits a fireman’s carry neckbreaker for two.
Styles sets up for a Styles Clash, but Owens reverses out. Styles catches him on the apron and goes for the Phenomenal Forearm, but Owens moves. He catches Styles with a superkick for two. Styles catches Owens with the Calf Crusher. Owens headbutts him out of the move. Owens goes for a powerbomb, Styles counters with a Pele Kick. He goes for a Clash, Owens, pushes him away. Styles once more catches the Calf Crusher. Owens tries to grab the hair, but misses. He barely makes it to the ropes.
Owens kicks Styles away, pushing him into the referee. He connects with a pair of kicks to Styles. He goes for a punch, but misses Styles and hits the referee instead. He tries to hit a pop-up powerbomb, but Styles counters with a roll-up. The referee is able to make the count, but Owens had a shoulder up. The ref didn’t see it. It’s over.
Winner: AJ Styles to retain the US Championship
Owens barks at the referee afterwards as he sells the punch. A trainer checks on the ref, Owens complains.
It’s like they tried to redo the botched finish from Battleground, which doesn’t work as far as I’m concerned. That said, this was a very good match, and furthers the trajectory towards SummerSlam.
The announcers recap the pinfall, and agree with Owens’ claims. Backstage, Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon approach the referee. They tell him he made a bad call. He says his eyes were blurry and he didn’t have time to call for a second official. Owens comes running in on a tirade, throwing things. McMahon and Bryan try to cool him off. Owens pushes the referee, and Shane gets in his face. The two bicker. Shane says he’ll give him a rematch at SummerSlam. Owens says he wants a referee that has two good eyes at SummerSlam, and continues yelling. Bryan says he’s got a referee for him – Shane. Owens is pissed, and says he’s the most incompetent one. Shane says he can have the rematch if he allows him to be the referee. Owens flips a table and walks off.
The announcers hype up the main event for tonight – Cena vs. Nakamura, plus up next, the next Breezango Fashion Files segment!
The announcers cue up a recap from last week, when The Usos attacked The New Day from behind during their entrance.
Back in the arena, The Usos mock The New Day’s entrance, and then their own music kicks in. The fans even bought into it at first. They ask if the fans thought it would be three clowns on a tricycle, or three grown men talking about their Popsicles. They welcome New Day to the Uso Penitentiary. They take credit for New Day not being there this week. They call them three grown twerking men “blowing their own trombones.” They’re taking the tag titles AND the catch phrase. Because… Uso Rocks!
A solid promo here. These guys are doing some of the best work of their career right now.
Time for the Fashion Files, this time a Twin Peaks spoof. We see various missing people – Fandango, Eraserhead, Bella Twin Peaks… Breeze is speaking into a recorder, and he’s wondering where Fandango is. He goes to drink his coffee, but it’s turned to sludge. The lights flicker, and Fandango is dancing in front of him. Then The Ascension appear next to him. They pour maple syrup onto a log, hand Fandango a rose, then start laughing. All three start laughing as the lights flicker.
Apparently Breeze was napping. He wakes up in the same room. He picks up his recorder and says he knows who kidnapped Fandango. “To be continued.”
Well, that was weird.
Sami Zayn vs. Aiden English
Sami comes out before the break. English afterwards. It seems like English is getting more TV time lately, and I’m fine with that. He sings on his way to the ring. “His voice can bring you pleasure, but tonight it brings you pain, as I step across my canvas and defeat Sami Zayn.” The fans chant “You suck!” and he milks it.
The Action: The bell rings and the two lock up. English hits a shoulder block and taunts Zayn. JBL calls English a “very capable wrestler” which is usually the kiss of death. Zayn flips and rolls out of a wrist lock, cinching his own. He works over the arm. English rolls Zayn back in the arm-bar, and shockingly, gets a roll-up victory.
Winner: Aiden English
There’s an angle here of some sort, but I’m not sure what it is yet.
Mike and Maria Kanellis immediately walk onto the ramp. They say they love each other, and they love that Zayn lost. They raise hands and their music plays them out.
Backstage, Naomi and Becky Lynch get ready to take on Natalya and Carmella!
Natalya & Carmella vs. Becky Lynch & Naomi
The Action: The bell rings, Becky and Nattie squaring off. Natalya seeks refuge in the ropes. Lynch hits a back kick and sweeps the leg out of the corner. Tag to Naomi. The two double-team Nattie, who begs off for a time out. Tag to Carmella.
Naomi hits a series of kicks to the leg. Carmella slaps the taste out of her mouth, and Naomi responds with a dropkick. A slap of her own caps it off. Tag to Natalya, who slams Naomi into the mat. Cover for two. Naomi hits an arm drag and goes for the tag, but Natalya cuts her off with a spinebuster. She hits Lynch on the apron, then locks a Sharpshooter in the middle of the ring. Naomi crawls to the ropes.
Carmella tags in and immediately locks in her submission, Code of Silence. Naomi rolls through and locks in her own submission. Lynch stops Natalya from breaking it, and Carmella taps out.
Winners: Naomi & Becky Lynch
Not a bad match, though a little short. They kept both champ and challenger protected heading into SummerSlam.
Backstage, Renee Young interviews Jinder Mahal and The Singh Brothers. Both brothers are bandaged up. Young asks who he would prefer to face at SummerSlam. Mahal says it doesn’t matter if it’s the man from Japan or The American. He’ll walk out champion. He’s going to his personal skybox to watch. He starts talking about the xenophobia he feels when he walks down the street. He’s going to continue to destroy the American icons until there’s noone left to worship.
Backstage, Rusev heads to the ring for a match against Chad Gable.
Rusev vs. Chad Gable
Gable comes out with the original American Alpha music. I feel that tag teams should have their music retired when they break up (I’m looking at you, Roman Reigns/The Shield). Ah well.
The Action: Rusev tosses Gable around pretty easily. Gable tries to wrestle Rusev, seeking the best position to attack. Rusev tosses Gable out of the ring, but he comes right back in. He goes right back in, and starts working Rusev’s leg. Rusev recovers and hits a huge suplex. Cover for two. We go to break, picture in picture.
Rusev whips Gable into the turnbuckle face-first. He continues to wear Gable down. Rusev cinches a bear hug. He misses a splash in the middle of the ring. Out of the break, Gable hits a belly to belly, and rolls it into a second. He goes for #3, but Rusev breaks free. Gable hits a German into a bridge instead. Two-count. Gable goes up top, Rusev cuts him off. Gable fights free and moonsaults to his feet. Rusev charges and misses. Gable hits the moonsault for real this time. Two-count.
Rusev struggles to his feet. Gable tries to roll him up and sends it into a German, but Rusev powers out. He hits a kick to the face. Two count. Rusev stomps the back and goes for the Accolade. Gable slips free and goes for the Ankle Lock. Rusev kicks free, sending Gable to the floor. He comes back in and eats a jump kick. Rusev immediately locks in the Accolade, and Gable taps.
Wow, that was a tremendous match! Gable looked awesome here, and Rusev looked like he won thanks to resourcefulness. Both guys had great chemistry together. Well done. These are the kinds of matches that will get Gable up the card as a singles act, and keep Rusev advancing towards the main event.
After the match, Rusev grabs a mic. He says ever since he came to Smackdown Live, he was promised competition. They gave him Cena, and yeah, he may have waved his flag, but he didn’t beat him. No one can beat him. He says he’s got no opponent at SummerSlam – everyone is afraid of Rusev because Rusev beats everybody. He speaks in Bulgarian and his music hits.
And then Randy Orton’s music hits. Orton walks onto the ramp and towards the ring. Orton teases a climb into the ring, and then walks around towards the timekeeper. He starts to enter the ring, but Rusev approaches, and he backs off again. Orton grabs a mic as a solid “Randy” chant breaks out. “If I was you, I wouldn’t want me to get in that ring either.” Rusev steps back and opens his arms in a gesture of good faith. Orton steps into the ring cautiously. He tells Rusev he’s never beaten him, and he’s not afraid of Rusev either. “You want an opponent at SummerSlam, look no further. You’ve got one right here.” Rusev laughs and speaks in Bulgarian. He gets ready to swing at Orton and out of nowhere, Orton nails him with an RKO. Orton poses on the ropes as Rusev is laid out.
Up next, Cena vs. Nakamura!
Out of the break, the announcers recap the happenings of the US Title match, and the aftermatch, including the announcement of Styles vs. Owens, with Shane McMahon as the referee.
John Cena vs. Shinsuke Nakamura to determine the #1 Contender to the WWE Championship
Full entrances for both men here.
The Action: After the break, the bell rings. Nak ducks a collar and elbow tieup. Cena returns the favor. The two finally lock up. Nakamura backs Cena into the corner and taunts him. He holds up “goggles” and says he can see him. Cena locks in a wristlock as the “Lets go Cena/Cena sucks” chants break out. Nakamura reverses his way through the wristlock. Nakamura connects with a flurry of kicks. Good vibrations in the corner. Cena misses a charge in the corner, and Nakamura goes for it once more, but Cena recovers and hits a belly to belly for two. We go to break.
Out of the break, the two trade blows. Nakamura hits a knee and a spin kick. He hits a flurry of kicks, and whips Cena into the corner, following it with a running elbow. He sets Cena across the top turnbuckle, and hits a lifting knee for two. Cena fires up and hits a set of shoulders, into the Five Knuckle Shuffle, except he takes too long. Nakamura grabs the arm and goes for an arm bar. Cena deadlifts him out of the arm bar and goes for the AA. Nakamura hits a facebuster. He readies the Kinshasa knee. Cena drops it into an STF. Nakamura rolls out of it and goes for the arm breaker. Cena rolls it into a pin attempt, then hits a clothesline. Both men are out.
Nakamura hits a set of strikes and a running knee. He goes for the Kinshasa, Cena counters, hits the AA, and Nakamura kicks out. Cena goes for another AA, Nakamura rolls it into a guillotine choke. Cena powers him up onto the shoulders. He hits the AA a second time, then rolls Nak up for another one. Nakamura recovers, hits the Exploder suplex, and readies the running knee. He hits the Kinshasa knee for the win!
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
After the match, Cena shakes Nakamura’s hand and raises it up high. He leaves the ring as Nakamura celebrates.
I’m pleasantly surprised with the outcome of this match. It’s a good opportunity to have a fresh face in one of the top matches on the card, and I think Nakamura operates best in big-match settings. These two had some good chemistry together too, which helped, and I hope the next time we see them, it’s on pay-per-view, with no commercials, and no time restrictions.
This was a solid episode of Smackdown. We had a great main event, a great match between Rusev and Chad Gable, a great promo from The Usos, and a great opening match between Styles and Owens. Everything is falling into place for SummerSlam on the blue brand.
Bill and I will talk about this and much more tomorrow on Ring Rap Audio. In the meantime, hit us up with your Favorite Thing in Wrestling on Twitter @RingRap! Thanks for reading!