By Graham "GSM" Matthews
SmackDown Commissioner and SmackDown General Manager Daniel Bryan Announced a No. 1 Contender's Six-Pack Challenge For the WWE World Championship
I'm not typically a fan of authority figures talking to the entire roster on the stage or around the ring, but I was fine with it happening for the first episodes of Raw and SmackDown in the New Era in order to introduce fans to the rosters. I was glad they went with a Six-Pack Challenge to determine the No. 1 contender instead of just giving a title shot to someone, as had been teased on social media prior to the show. How were any of the five Superstars worthy, though? Cena and Styles I can understand, but Ziggler? Corbin? What did they ever do? At any rate, the announcement of the Battle Royal was a nice hook heading into the commercial break.
Apollo Crews Won a Battle Royal to Qualify For the No. 1 Contender's Six-Pack Challenge
You watch one Battle Royal, you've seen them all, and this Battle Royal in particular wasn't all that exciting given you knew the winner likely wouldn't be coming out on top in the main event, anyway. Nevertheless, it was pretty throwaway until it came down to the final four. I could have done without Kane being in the last two, but it did mean more for Crews to eliminate the seasoned veteran to win as opposed to Kalisto or Zack Ryder. The blue brand should do wonders for Crews. On a side note, I was happy American Alpha were left out of this so their first match could be saved for later on.
Becky Lynch def. Natalya
Given that this was a Battleground rematch, why not advertise in advance? In the opening segment or at least on the website earlier in the day? Nevertheless, the match was along the same lines as their initial outing, though I might have enjoyed this more if only because the crowd was a little livelier. Lynch getting her win back was a case of 50/50 booking at its finest, but she needed the victory coming off her recent string of losses. I was hoping Alexa Bliss would get the sole spotlight afterward, but it turned into a paint-by-numbers segment with all the women of SmackDown coming out. Not to say that it was bad by any means, but the debuts of Bliss and Carmella were overshadowed as a result in my opinion.
Intercontinental Champion The Miz Hosted 'Miz TV' with Randy Orton
Orton appears to be more motivated than ever after nine months away and I hope he keeps it up going into SummerSlam. I was wondering whether we would be seeing him do nothing but talking segments such as this before the pay-per-view, but it looks like that won't be the case considering his match against Miz. As for this segment, I thoroughly enjoyed it as they bounce off each other very well and Miz is picture perfect in this antagonistic role.
Randy Orton def. Intercontinental Champion The Miz (Non-title)
Well, this was disappointing. The match was barely getting underway when Orton hit the RKO out of nowhere. No set-up, no foreshadowing, nothing. Maybe I would have been fine with it if it was any other enhancement talent, but it bothered me they made the Intercontinental Champion look that weak. Then again, that has been the case for as long as I can remember, so what else is new? I also wouldn't have had Orton's first match back be so underwhelming, either.
Rhyno Attacked Heath Slater
Having Slater be the "hottest free agent in sports entertainment" is absolutely brilliant. He thrived in a similar role leading up to Raw 1000 and it should get him even more over in the end. Let's hope they actually follow through and push him this time, though. Rhyno resurfacing wasn't a huge shocker to anyone who read the reports last week, but I am still thrilled to have him back on the blue brand. SmackDown needs more established names and he can effectively fill one of those vacant spots.
Dolph Ziggler def. AJ Styles, John Cena, Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin and Apollo Crews in No. 1 Contender's Six-Pack Challenge For the WWE World Championship
It was really cool to see Corbin and Crews mixing it up with the top-tier talent and I hope their stay on SmackDown eventually elevates them to that point. All six Superstars had a solid showing and there was true unpredictability and excitement surrounding the finish, so I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Ziggler pinning Styles clean surprised the hell out of me, and he was honestly the last person I expected to win, but I love the move to go with him in the title match at SummerSlam. Sure, he has been around for over a decade, but he hasn't been in the world title picture in years and he makes more sense right now than Crews or Corbin. Cena and Styles can continue their program, but what's next for Wyatt? That's the ever-asked question for the guy. Either way, I'm all for a reboot of Ziggler if it means the push will stick this time and we can get the desperately needed heel turn out of it.
Obviously, Raw was the better of the two shows this week by a long shot, but I enjoyed this edition of SmackDown. It was a good, not great, show that featured a quality main event with a pleasantly surprising finish, the returns of Rhyno and Shelton Benjamin (!!!!!), Orton's first match in nine months, and a nice women's contest. Meanwhile, the roster remains thin, but I believe they can rectify that issue by bringing in more recognizable names in the coming weeks and months. That combined with building the fresh faces they already have will make SmackDown a stellar show in no time. Basically, this episode showcased the potential the blue brand has to be great again.