United States Champion AJ Styles def. Kevin Owens
Some might say that the string of matches these two have had since the spring have been somewhat underwhelming, but this was easily their best bout to date and an entertaining match from start to finish. The pace was quicker than usual and it made for a strong second half. Unfortunately, the finish was once again horribly executed. How could the referee (even after being knocked down) not see that Owens' shoulders weren't down on the mat? I understand that was done to set up the SummerSlam rematch, but in that case, this match shouldn't have happened in the first place. On the bright side, I liked that the show kicked off with an actual match for a change.
The Usos Addressed SmackDown Tag TEam Champions The New Day
There are few heels hotter in WWE right now than The Usos, who continue to kill it on the microphone and in the ring every chance they get. This was a quality follow-up to The Usos laying out New Day last week and I liked that New Day was kept off TV to sell the beatdown. The Usos are just so engaging as heels and it's cool they have fun face foils in New Day to work with. Their third championship clash at SummerSlam should be as strong as the first two.
Aiden English def. Sami Zayn
Zayn scored back-to-back victories last week at Battleground and on SmackDown Live, but any shred of momentum he had was ruined when he randomly lost to English here. Seriously, what was the point of that? I would assume that based off how long English's pre-match singing shtick was, they plan on pushing him more than they have lately, yet that didn't work out too well for Mike Kanellis, who is still a loser despite confronting Zayn afterward. Are they bound to do battle on the SummerSlam Kickoff show?
SmackDown Women's Champion Naomi and Becky Lynch def. Carmella and Natalya
It's been so long since Carmella was in action on SmackDown Live that I almost forgot she was Ms. Money in the Bank. Also, isn't James Ellsworth's storyline suspension up by now? I hope they never remember that because I'd rather not have him back on TV. As for this match, it was good as it could have been for the time it was given, and the babyfaces were able to pick up a win without the challenger eating a defeat. At this point, Naomi vs. Natalya is a program and nothing more.
Rusev def. Chad Gable
Gable has been absent from SmackDown despite that interesting interview he had on the show two weeks ago. That said, this was an excellent use of him and I thoroughly enjoyed this matchup as he played the role of underdog against the much larger Rusev. He scored a ton of impressive offense over him, yet Rusev still picked up the win as he should have. In all honesty, I would be much more open to this being a full-fledged feud than Rusev vs. Randy Orton. While that's fresh, it merely feels like a placeholder for both men, and I highly doubt Rusev will beat Orton the same way Jinder Mahal did three times.
Shinsuke Nakamura def. John Cena in a WWE Championship No. 1 Contender's Match
There was plenty of questions as to whether this would live up to the hype of being a dream match (and if it would be justified in not being saved for a pay-per-view), not to mention that Nakamura had yet to have a truly memorable match since coming to the main roster. Well, Cena and Nakamura definitely delivered here and put forth an excellent effort. With a little more time, it could have been a Match of the Year candidate, but what we received was great and the atmosphere was awesome. Cena did a hell of a job of putting Nakamura over in a major way, which I was not expecting whatsoever. For those who missed it on the 205 Live broadcast, Baron Corbin attacked Nakamura after SmackDown went off the air before Cena made the save, seemingly setting up that SummerSlam matchup in the process.
After a long stretch of time where SmackDown was producing relatively dull episodes on a weekly basis, the blue brand redeemed itself with strong shows last week and this week. The main event as well as the opener certainly cemented this as an above-average edition, in addition to a terrific promo from The Usos and a blast of an outing from Rusev and Gable. To top it all off, there was a ton of hype for SummerSlam with Mahal vs. Nakamura, Styles vs. Owens, and Orton vs. Rusev being officially announced.
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