The Best And Worst Of WWE Smackdown Live 7/26/16: Baby Steps

Hey, Blue Team.

If nothing else, this week’s Smackdown was a very interesting show. Short of bringing out Nakamura, there wasn’t really anything Smackdown could do to top Raw, and at times it felt like they weren’t even bothering to try. Unlike Raw, I think Smackdown may need some time to find itself. But the good news is, they have a lot of options for what they could be. It’s a very unique roster. Not the strongest overall, but the top of the card is stacked and the rest of the roster has a lot of potential. It’s going to be very interesting to see how things progress over the next few months.

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And now without further ado, here is The Best and Worst of Smackdown Live for July 26, 2016.

Worst: Deja Vu

The first non-draft Smackdown Live opens up eerily similar to the way this week’s Raw opened, with some slight tweaks. Just like Raw, the entire roster has been gathered in the arena so the Commissioner and General Manager can announce how they will go about determining a new number one contender for the World Championship.

But don’t be mistaken. Smackdown is its own brand now, and not just a retread of Raw. So instead of two four man matches, Smackdown is going to have a 6 man match. And instead of the roster gathering on the stage, the Smackdown roster gathers in the ring. See how completely different that is?

Seeing all the Smackdown Superstars gathered together for the first time made me realize how weird the roster looks. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but something seems very off. I like just about everybody on the roster; it just feels like a very odd mix of people. It looks like NXT’s B team joined by a 2006 Raw main event, plus AJ Styles. Don’t get me wrong, I like 90% of these people and I’m keeping an open mind, but something’s not right here.

Shane and Daniel Bryan announce five of the competitors for tonight’s Six Pack Challenge. They are John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin, and AJ Styles. The sixth competitor will be determined by Battle Royale.

Worst: Woo Woo Whoops! 

I’m usually a sucker for a Battle Royale, but oof. This was not good. I thought this roster looked weird standing around the ring, but they really put an exclamation point on that when they all got in the ring. Replace Kane and Alberto Del Rio with Blake and Murphy and you have a Battle Royale to determine the number one contender for the NXT Championship two years ago.

No offense to any of these men, but we’re fifteen minutes into Smackdown and it’s already screaming “B Show.” Not to mention how insanely predictable this was. The whole concept of a Battle Royale is that any man can win it. It’s supposed to be a pretty even playing field. Especially tonight where the whole thing was set up to give anyone on the roster an opportunity at a World Title shot. As long as you are a man, but more on that later.

If you didn’t know Apollo Crews was going to win this by last eliminating either Kane or Alberto Del Rio, then you have probably never seen wrestling before. With the slightest possible exception of Kalisto, did you really think anyone other than Apollo was winning this match? Was there a part of you that thought tonight was Erick Rowan’s night? Did you think that they were finally going to pull the trigger on Konnor from The Ascension’s big main event push?

The cherry on top of the whole mess was the performance by Zack Ryder. Poor Zack. I know everybody has off nights, but yeesh. Was he injured? Jet lagged? Too tired from Comic-Con? Did he just get so hyped about Mojo Rawley being there that he overexerted himself? It starts with him attempting a drop kick on Kalisto, but instead he misses wildly and kind of just hits Kalisto with his knees instead.

This is followed up by him tripping off the top rope while attempting an Elbrow Drop. Did he not get the memo that Smackdown is now live? They can’t just re-tape these things anymore. If there’s anything to “best” about this, it would be that the audience didn’t go too hard on him. There were no “You F’ed Up” chants, at least none that I could hear. Just a little awkwardness after he came off the top rope. So before too long, the audience was behind him again.

The singular fun and interesting moment in the match came at the end. Kane has Apollo Crews in his arms, ready to choke slam him. As Kane lifts Apollo up, Crews backflips out of the choke slam. So at least that’s something, huh?

Best: Second Chances

The first nice surprise of the night was a video announcing the return of Shelton Benjamin. I’m a big fan of second chances, so I’m happy to see Shelton’s on his way back. It’s not Shelton that needed a second chance with WWE, it’s WWE that needs a second chance with Shelton Benjamin. They never seemed to fully appreciate him or know exactly what to do with him. But no matter what they threw at him, Shelton always did his best.

I would be remiss to not mention that this is the first step to all of our dreams becoming a reality. We’re just one Haas away from the reformation of The World’s Greatest Tag Team, and it just so happens that Benjamin is returning to the same brand as American Alpha. I want to see those four men in the ring together so bad. That’s made to be a WrestleMania match. Give me Kurt Angle as a special guest referee and I’ll book my flight to Orlando tomorrow.

Worst: What Are We Fighting For?

Since last Tuesday night, I have found myself fluctuating between feeling happy and depressed for Becky Lynch. On one hand, Becky is certainly the centerpiece of Smackdown Live’s Women’s Division. She’s going to get all the attention she deserves and a lot of TV time, but at the same time, it’s a real bummer that we’re not going to get to see her wrestle for a championship belt any time soon. I guess it’s possible that SmackDown could eventually get its own Women’s title, but I don’t see that happening in the near future. Becky is a king without a crown.

Smackdown Live’s first Women’s match is Becky Lynch vs. Natalya, which is fitting because we’re probably going to be seeing that match a lot. There are only six active wrestlers on the Smackdown Women’s roster. I’m have some difficulty believing they’re going to have an easy time keeping the match-ups fresh. Sure that’s only two less than Raw (if you count Lana), but when the number of female competitors is that low, two people is a third of Smackdown’s roster.

Nattie and Becky had a pretty good match tonight, but it’s not a match I want to keep seeing over and over again. Another thing I don’t want to see is the promo train that followed it.

After Becky beat Natalya with the Dis-Arm-Her, Renee Young comes into the ring to interview her. This leads to Smackdown Live introducing their entire women’s roster to the world in the worst way possible; an old fashioned WWE promo train. One by one, each woman on the roster’s music hit and they’d come out to say as little as possible.

There may not have been a worse way to introduce the Smackdown audience to Alexa Bliss and Carmella. This is a problem that comes with calling up too many people from NXT at the same time. By the time Eva Marie’s entrance video played, Alexa, Naomi, and Carmella were totally forgotten.

Eva Marie’s entrance was spot-on perfect. I know that overshadowing people is kind of Eva Marie’s gimmick, but this segment would have been so much better if it had just been Eva Marie coming out after the match, allowing Bliss, Carmella, and Naomi to have their own moments. Still, they managed to get me excited about the possibility of an Eva Marie/Becky Lynch feud. Who doesn’t want to see Becky beat up Eva? You know what would make that even better? If Becky was chasing a title belt that Eva Marie was undeservedly holding.

Best: Happy Out Of Nowhere 

Miz TV is now exclusive to Smackdown. The Miz and Maryse are in the ring, intending on their guest being The One, The Only, The Miz, when they are unpleasantly surprised by the appearance of The Viper, Randy Orton.

This is not the Randy Orton of old. There’s a spring in Orton’s step that hasn’t been there before. He’s radiating an energy he’s never had. He just seems happy. He definitely has more enthusiasm. It feels like the beginning of a new phase for Randy, and I’m excited for it. I can’t wait to see who The Viper … wait. No. No don’t do that. Why would you do that? But this isn’t good for anybody. Okay … they’re not going to do it. Oh no! They are doing it!

Worst: The Miz vs. Randy Orton

The new Smackdown Live is so fresh and innovative, they decided to book The Miz and Randy Orton for their first episode. There are not enough “worsts.” I’m not entirely sure yet what an episode of Smackdown Live feels like, but this segment feels a lot like Smackdown Pre-taped.

I love The Miz and Randy Orton. But I have no place for The Miz vs. Randy Orton in 2016. Especially when it ends up being just another railroading of the Intercontinental Champion. At least when Ambrose pinned him a few weeks ago, it was a long competitive match.

How can Smackdown ever move forward if they’re going to keep up the old cliche of the Intercontinental Champion losing more often than he wins?

Best: Never Too Late To Slate(r) 

In my absolute favorite segment on this week’s Smackdown Live, Heath Slater jumps the barricade, takes out a jobber, grabs the mic, and names drops The Nexus, The Core, and 3MB before getting gored by Rhyno. It’s pretty close to perfect.

I really hope this is the beginning of big things for Heath Slater. If Zack Ryder can have a WrestleMania moment, why can’t Slater? This is exactly what I wanted from SmackDown Live. This is fun. This is interesting. More Heath Slater. Less Randy Orton vs. The Miz.

Best: The New SmackDown Six?

Okay. Now I’m intrigued. I thoroughly enjoyed the Six Pack Challenge to determine who is the Number One Contender for the WWE Championship. The match wasn’t a classic, but it was a lot of fun. And it really got me thinking. There’s an opportunity here. An opportunity to take advantage of the WWE Championship being exclusive to Smackdown.

What if instead of using lame personal drama, the crux of Smackdown became these six world class athletes all trying to become the WWE Champion? Include Ambrose and Orton, and between the eight of them you could have something really special here. You don’t need Randy Orton breaking into Apollo Crews’ house or Bray Wyatt brainwashing Baron Corbin or Ziggler turning on Ambrose in a tag team match. Just eight elite athletes competing for the grandest prize of them all. That would make Smackdown Live truly unique. That would set Smackdown Live apart from Raw. That makes me even more depressed for the women of Smackdown Live.

Dolph Ziggler ends up picking up the win in a moment that had me truly surprised. Boy was that the right decision. There was no one better to win that match. The time’s not right for Crews or Corbin, and even though I think one day Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt will redeem themselves with a great feud, that day’s not here yet either. But Ziggler’s perfect. It’s still not too late for Dolph to be a real main event player. He’s like a main event Heath Slater. It’s not too late. If handled correctly and if they have a real long term plan for him, he could be a legit WWE Title contender.

Ziggler and Ambrose in a WWE Title match at SummerSlam is a very intriguing idea. I’m legitimately excited for SummerSlam now. I’m looking forward to SummerSlam more than I am NXT TakeOver: Back to Brooklyn. That seemed unthinkable a few months ago. It may not have been the best Smackdown and it sure wasn’t as good as Raw, but they have me intrigued.

Until next time, I’m Justin Donaldson, and when you’re Blue, you’re Blue 4 life.