By David Dodgson @DodgeeWriter
Hell in a Cell is still more than a month away but Smackdown has started putting the wheels in motion on new rivalries and title clashes. The stage has already been set for a No. 1 contenders match between Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura, with the latter on the receiving end of an RKO Out of Nowhere last week after they tagged together. AJ Styles has revived the US Open Challenge – will Baron Corbin manage to get there first this week? And the slow-brewing conflict between Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens appears almost ready to start simmering over. Let’s run through this week’s matches and talking points.
Randy Orton/Shinsuke Nakamura Promos
After Corey Graves is introduced as JBL’s replacement at the announce table, a video promo of Orton airs. He calls Nakamura a star and says last week’s RKO was to show him that he can’t afford to let his guard down even for a second. He says he will win tonight and finally get his title back from Jinder Mahal, declaring that no-one, not even a star like Nakamura, can rise above the Viper.
Shinsuke’s turn for a pre-taped promo next. He speaks of his respect for Orton and the pain he inflicts. He claims the WWE Championship is his destiny and he will inflict pain on Orton to get another shot at it.
Kevin Owens/Shane McMahon Segment
Carmella v. Natalya is the scheduled match but just as James Ellsworth starts his intro, Kevin Owens’ music hits. He announces himself as special gust referee for the match. He tries to take the ref’s shirt before Shane McMahon makes an entrance. He tells KO to stop blaming him for his recent losses. Owens insists that Shane is to blame before saying he wishes he was still on RAW, drawing a chorus of boos from the crowd. They go back and forth about who is to blame. KO gets personal by implying Shane’s crazy stunts over the years were all to impress his dad. He brings up the helicopter crash and says all Shane’s family, especially his kids, would be better off if he hadn’t survived. Shane finally snaps and unloads punches on Owens. The brawl spills to the outside and over the announce table. Shane is raining punches and kicks down on Owens and it makes Daniel Bryan to make him back off as the crowd chants “Shane O’Mac!” What an intense start to the show!
After a commercial break, we see Owens and Bryan backstage. Owens, selling injuries hard, threatens to sue Shane, the WWE, and all the McMahon family. Daniel Bryan says there has to be another way, prompting KO to say he will file a police complaint.
Carmella (w/ James Ellsworth) v. Natalya
The women’s match finally gets underway with Carmella immediately on the attack. A slap from Natalya soon stops her in her tracks as we go to commercials. Back from the break, Carmella is in control with a couple of submission holds but Natalya powers out with a huge slam. A big superkick gets Carmella a near fall. Ellsworth jumps up on the apron at this point with the Money in the Bank briefcase only to drop it as Natalya kicks out. Carmella has to intervene quickly to stop the ref from calling a cash in. That distraction is enough for the champ to win with a roll-up. Post-match, Carmella berates her sidekick, calling him a sorry excuse for a human. She says they are through and storms off with the briefcase leaving a distraught Ellsworth sunk in the corner, though the later literally kiss and make-up (with an added slap) later on. Winner – Natalya
Dolph Ziggler v. The Fans
Dolph Ziggler’s “re-debut” comes next and his entrance… looks exactly the same as always. He complains that the fans don’t appreciate him before leaving the stage and then, in one of the most baffling segments of recent times, returning as John Cena, Randy Savage, and (most bizarrely of all) Naomi complete with a glow wig and a feeble slide down the ramp. The crowd play along with “John Cena sucks!” chants on the first entrance but the rest of the reactions are muted. Dolph says he has no equal in the ring but the fans don’t deserve him and heads backstage. No winners here, only a loser!
Sami Zayn v. Aiden English
After last week’s no contest, thanks to Kevin Owens inserting himself as referee, we have a rematch between Sami Zayn and Aiden English. The match is a short one with a few exchanges before Zayn misses a crossbody from the top rope and English rolls him over for a surprise pin. Aiden English bursts into song in celebration but is promptly chased up the ramp by an embarrassed Zayn. One interesting note – Corey Graves, despite routinely panning the musical performances of Elias on RAW, seems quite enamoured with English’s operatic talents. Winner – Aiden English
Daniel Bryan/Shane McMahon Segment
Daniel Bryan receives a phone call ordering him to the ring, where he calls out Shane McMahon. The Smackdown commissioner enters to no music. Bryan reminds him how The Miz provoked him on Talking Smack last year and how Shane McMahon told him not to react. Shane tries to explain his actions but Bryan revels the call was from Vince McMahon, who has ordered his son to be indefinitely suspended. Shane O’Mac departs to chants of “thank you Shane!” It remains to be seen whether this means Shane will be back for revenge next week or if this is the start of an absence from TV with the rivalry on hold for a future PPV clash.
Baron Corbin v. Tye Dillinger
AJ Styles is sitting in on commentary for this match set up after The Perfect 10 beat Corbin to the ring for the Open Challenge last week. The Lone Wolf immediately gets in Styles’ face’ allowing Dillinger to gain the advantage with a suicide dive. Corbin soon starts to dominate and nets a near fall from a lariat clothesline. Dillinger keeps coming back though and at one point has his opponent on his shoulders for the Tye Breaker. Corbin counters and kicks Dillinger to the outside before again letting his attention slip to Styles at ringside. He almost loses to a quick roll-up before poking Dillinger in the eye to retake control. One End of Days later and Corbin wins. Post-match’ Corbin smiles as Styles stares him down. Winner: Baron Corbin
Backstage, Styles approaches Dillinger and offers him a US title match next week. With the Usos setting up a street fight with the New Day and a Natalya-Naomi rematch, that means three title matches next week.
Shinsuke Nakamura v. Randy Orton
Interesting contrast in the entrances as Shinsuke elicits the usual high energy and pumps the crowd, while Randy Orton methodically paces his way down the ramp. A frantic start sees both superstars almost land their signature moves before Orton slows the pace down and takes the fight to the outside, dropping Nakamura on the announce table. Back in the ring, Shinsuke regains the advantage and hits a series of kicks. Orton is really selling how hard the strikes are. A top-rope superplex nearly wins the match for Orton but Nakamura kicks out on two. The Viper then converts a Kinshasa attempt into a powerslam as the “this is awesome!” chants begin. Orton hits a draping DDT before going for the RKO but Nakamura brilliantly counters into an armbar and triangle hold. Orton powers out and goes for another RKO. Nakamura counters one last time and then hits the Kinshasa for the win. That was a great match and The King of Strong Style now holds pinfall victories over Kevin Owens, John Cena, and Randy Orton… but not Jinder Mahal… At least, not yet. Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
One final backstage segment as Daniel Bryan speaks to Kevin Owens. KO promises he will make Smackdown his personal playground and Bryan’s living nightmare but the smile disappears from his face when he learns there will be a special visitor to next week’s show – Mr McMahon himself.
Again, there was a lot of setting up for future shows but that didn’t stop this episode from being a quality one. Most of the talking points will centre around Kevin Owens and Shane McMahon and the arrival of Vince McMahon next week will be worth watching. Carmella-Natalya, Corbin-Dillinger, and Nakamura-Orton were all good matches that advanced storylines. The Dolph Ziggler segment was the only major let-down this week and the Zayn-English match was rushed but we will have to wait and how they play out in the coming weeks. Next week’s episode in Las Vegas looks set to be a stacked show with three confirmed title matches and the presence of the boss. Here’s hoping it lives up to the hype.