Rusev Interrupted John Cena
Being WWE's Mr. USA, Cena's Fourth of July speech was expected albeit appreciated because his words came across as genuine. However, I can't say I cared for him calling himself an "all-timer" and addressing the "New Era" because he said that the last three times he returned and then he leaves again for another three months. Enough already. Thankfully, Rusev is finally back and his verbal exchange with Cena was solid. It tied into today's holiday and set up an apparent program between the two. Sadly, I assume Rusev will merely be stepping stone for Cena ahead of his rumored WWE Championship match at SummerSlam.
AJ Styles def. Chad Gable in an Independence Day Battle Royal Qualifying Match
Kevin Owens complained quite a bit on Talking Smack about Styles and Gable being a part of the Independence Day Battle Royal despite already receiving their shot at the United States Championship and falling short of capturing the title, and he made a valid point. Thus, I liked how they had to fight for their spot in the bout and it was a fresh matchup to boot. They worked well together and produced an enjoyable outing. It's interesting Gable has been given more chances to shine recently than Jason Jordan, and I hope this isn't the last we see of him (or them) in meaningful matches.
SmackDown Women's Champion Naomi and SmackDown Live General Manager Daniel Bryan Interrupted Carmella
It took three months, but Naomi's title belt finally glows. Nevertheless, it's an amazing visual. Carmella can garner enough heat on her own now that she's Ms. Money in the Bank, so I don't understand why James Ellsworth is even essential to her act anymore. On the bright side, he's been suspended for 30 days (in storyline), so we won't be seeing him for the foreseeable future. I found it hilarious that Carmella started to care only after Bryan said he would strip Carmella of her contract if Ellsworth didn't immediately exit the arena.
SmackDown Women's Champion Naomi def. Lana
With Naomi's title belt now glowing, you had to know WWE wouldn't take the title off her so soon (a ton of money probably went into making that possible). Even still, I'm shocked this bout was as brief as it was, shorter than last week's in fact. That begs the question of what the purpose was of doing another rematch to begin with. A Lana and Tamina pairing doesn't intrigue me in the slightest, but it looks like Tamina is Naomi's next rival.
Wale Hosted a Rap-Off Between SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Usos and The New Day
This wasn't as much of a rap-off as it was a dissing contest, but either way, it was thoroughly entertaining. From New Day mentioning Jimmy Uso on Total Divas and carrying Roman Reigns' bags to The Usos bringing up Kofi Kingston's fake Jamaican accent and Xavier Woods' sex tape (that was the best line of them all), this was a wild roast and exactly what I wanted to see from these guys when the feud first started over a month ago. Additionally, props to Wale as well for keeping the segment on track and not embarrassing himself the same way the Ball family did on Miz TV last week.
Aiden English def. Randy Orton by Disqualification
Yes, English now owns a victory over Orton. That is pure proof that anything can happen, folks. In all seriousness, this was less of a match and more of an attack from Orton on English as he unleashed his aggression ahead of his upcoming Punjabi Prison match against Jinder Mahal. Speaking of whom, Mahal's promo afterward was as basic as it gets and Orton's wasn't much better. As I've said before, I'm really ready for this rivalry to wrap up.
AJ Styles Won the United States Champion No. 1 Contender's Battle Royal
SmackDown has been known for its Battle Royals over the last year, and it's hard to say whether this was more memorable than others we've seen on the blue brand. The first half was pretty paint-by-numbers, but the closing stretch was a ton of fun, and the seeds were planted for a Hype Bros split with Mojo Rawley tossing out Zack Ryder. Tye Dillinger has been absent from WWE programming since Backlash, so it was cool that he was among the remaining competitors at the end. Styles earning another shot at the U.S. title was predictable, but it was what needed to happen and the crowd did buy into Zayn as a potential winner before Styles ultimately emerged victorious.
Typically, WWE phones it in and offers more silly segments than serious ones on these holiday shows, but this was a very good edition of SmackDown Live all things considered. Between a new No. 1 Contender to the U.S. title being crowned and the returns of Rusev and Cena, it was a newsworthy night that held my attention with everything else in the middle. The stage is set for most matches at Battleground and the event is almost two weeks away, so that's smart booking by the SmackDown team. Happy Independence Day, everyone!