By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Becky Lynch, Natalya, Alexa Bliss, Carmella, Naomi and Nikki Bella Brawled
It's extremely rare (I honestly couldn't remember the last time this happened) that the women opened an episode of Raw or SmackDown, so this was a refreshing change of pace. No one's mic work in particular blew me away, and the pacing of it was pretty paint-by-numbers, but I appreciated the time all of them had to talk (well, most of them) and establish their case for why they should be the inaugural SmackDown Women's Champion. Furthermore, it set up the night's six-woman tag team match nicely.
Intercontinental Champion The Miz def. Apollo Crews (Non-title)
Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed this significantly more than their SummerSlam match simply because Miz is significantly more relevant now than he was two weeks ago, and they were given more time (a.k.a. not rushed) to show what they were capable of. Crews is a great worker with poor character development, so hopefully the latter changes at some point. It was a solid win for Miz ahead of his title defense against Dolph Ziggler at Backlash, but I really wish they'd find some direction for Crews sometime soon. Also, can Ziggler just turn heel already and get it over with?
Carmella, Alexa Bliss and Natalya def. Nikki Bella, Becky Lynch and Naomi
I've said this before, but I absolutely love how SmackDown makes excellent use of all of their women instead of just a few, unlike Raw. Everyone was able to shine at one point or another throughout the bout, and the psychology from the heels with Natalya preventing Lynch from making the tag was spot-on. Bonus points for allowing Carmella to force Nikki to submit, giving her the biggest win of her career to date. With the heels going over here, that has to mean that Lynch will be winning Sunday, right? Right?!
American Alpha def. The Usos in a SmackDown Tag Team Championship Tournament Semifinal Match
It's the match we've all been waiting a while for, and I'm sure there will be those disappointed by its brevity, but I loved the way it went down. American Alpha winning so quickly and decisively was the ultimate shock factor, and it led to the much-needed heel turn from The Usos afterward. The attack on American Alpha was well done and it saves their barn-burner of a bout for another day. In case you haven't heard, despite winning here, American Alpha are out of the finals due to Chad Gable's "injury," so I like how they're not giving them the titles from the get-go. They will be money in chase mode, though.
Kane Attacked Fandango
I could really do without seeing Kane on my television on a weekly basis in 2016. He showed up last week and this week, both times for apparently no reason. It looked like his staredown with Baron Corbin last week might lead to a match at Backlash, but Corbin was nowhere to be seen in this segment, so perhaps that isn't in the cards after all. Thus, I ask again: what purpose was this intended to serve other than killing time?
Heath Slater and Rhyno def. The Hype Bros in a SmackDown Tag Team Championship Tournament Semifinal Match
In such a short span of time, Slater and Rhyno have become one of the most over acts in the entire company, which isn't too shocking considering their awesome chemistry as a tandem. The Hype Bros deserve credit for having a fun showing here, but nothing was going to stop these two from getting to the finals, and I'm happy it appears they will be working with the newly turned Usos.
WWE World Champion Dean Ambrose and AJ Styles Came Face-to-Face
Styles calling out Ambrose for being too goofy was perfect because Ambrose definitely does focus on his comedic side (that isn't all that funny) far more often than he should. And being the WWE World Champion (for now, anyway), he should take these type of title defenses more seriously. That said, I'm glad Styles got that intensity out of Ambrose before ultimately laying him out with a low blow, though I felt there should have been more to the segment than that, like a Styles Clash or something. We saw something similar last week, too, so am I wrong for feeling like the ending was almost anticlimactic?
As it stands at the moment, I am more excited for Backlash than I am Raw's Clash of Champions event later this month. Although they only had three weeks to build toward it, they have promoted the pay-per-view very well in the allotted time, and each advertised match has something to offer. Only five matches are currently on tap, so it wouldn't surprise me to see them add a bonus match or two with Kane, Crews, Corbin or whoever. All in all, this was an enjoyable go-home show that succeeded in getting me amped up for Sunday night.
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