SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT
JUNE 19, 2020
ORLANDO, FL AT WWE PERFORMANCE CENTER
AIRED ON FOX NETWORK
Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves
-The show opened with a recap of last week’s match between Daniel Bryan and A.J. Styles in the finals of the Intercontinental title tournament. The standard Smackdown intro followed.
-Michael Cole welcomed the audience to the WWE Performance Center and said Renee Young was standing by in the ring for the Intercontinental title presentation. Cole and Corey Graves talked up the return of the Firefly Funhouse, and Mandy Rose on MizTV.
-In the ring, Renee Young welcomed A.J. Styles to the ring, which was surrounded by the Smackdown roster. The Intercontinental title was propped on a stand in the ring, next to Renee Young.
Styles said Renee’s introduction was perfect, because she listed off all his accolades. “It’s like I’m an accolade machine.” He said Smackdown is the house that A.J. Styles built. Styles said he invited the locker room to ringside to show them that this is as close as they’re going to get to the title.
Renee Young asked Styles what winning the title meant to him. Styles said it was vindication, that what he said was true. “The cream rises to the top,” A.J. said. Styles said success is for those who reach up and grab it, not for those who sit by and wait to have it handed to them. A.J. said that, though Renee is great, there’s only one person qualified to present the title to him. He called on Daniel Bryan.
“Come put it around my waist,” Styles said. Bryan looked on from ringside, then slowly stepped in the ring. “Put it around my waist and say congratulations,” Styles admonished Bryan and told him to have a little respect. Bryan grabbed the title reluctantly. As Bryan struggled, Styles told him to be a man and then called him a coward. Bryan finally strapped the title around Styles’ waist and congratulated him.
“That was terrible,” A.J. said. Bryan took a mic and congratulated Styles with more fervor. Bryan said last week, Styles was the better man. He said he infinitely respects his ability in the ring. “I think you’re going to be a great Intercontinental champion,” Bryan said. He said he could even be the greatest in history, if shows up every week, pushes himself, and defends the title against the hungry wrestlers around the ring.
Bryan talked up Styles’ legacy if he were to defend the title against any number of Smackdown wrestlers. Styles told him to shut up. “A select few will have an opportunity at this championship,” Styles said. A.J. told Bryan he’s at the back of the list. Bryan said that since Styles is interested in people earning things, that means Drew Gulak has earned a title match by pinning Styles two weeks ago. Styles retorted, “I’m not giving hand outs.”
Styles said if someone wants a title shot. they’ll need to be the number one contender. He said the next person to step to him would face consequences. Matt Riddle’s music hit the speakers.
Matt Riddle stepped in the ring and kicked off his sandals. “What’s up, bro?” he said. He introduced himself, but Styles cut him off. “All I see is some dude with no shoes in my ring,” Styles said. Riddle said he never wears shoes. Styles said he just sees another person looking for a hand out.
Riddle said he’s here to give some advice. “I heard you’re the face that runs the place, but I’m the bro that runs the show,” Riddle dropped the mic. Styles fired of a cheap shot at Riddle. Riddle quickly recovered with a kick to the face, sending Styles to the outside.
Styles screamed for a referee. The show went to commercial.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Interesting debut for Matt Riddle, following the controversy that has arisen on Twitter in the last 48 hours. I’m not sure I’d have thrust Riddle into such a prominent position so quickly given the existing accusation. With that being said, Styles and Bryan were effective in their roles. Styles was made to seem like a hypocrite for denying Gulak his shot, despite Bryan bringing up a valid criticism. Bryan seemed like a good sport willing to give Styles his due, despite him being an obnoxious heel. Sometimes, simple segments like this can just work when both guys play the roles they’re expected to play, and play them well. Bryan, in particular, is a master of this.)
-Greg Hamilton began to introduce the match as being for the Intercontinental title when the show returned from commercial. Styles grabbed the mic, screaming no. “No shirt, no shoes, no Intercontinental title match for you,” Styles said. The locker room still surrounded the ring.
(1) A.J. STYLES vs. MATT RIDDLE
A.J. Styles threw a kick at Matt Riddle, but Riddle blocked it and hit a quick German suplex. He transitioned into a gut wrench and dropped Styles twice. Riddle kicked Styles in the face, mounted him, and threw a flurry of punches.
Styles slowly returned to his feet and caught Riddle with a jawbreaker to slow him down. Styles back Riddle into the corner, but Riddle quickly hit Styles with a big kick to the jaw. He covered him for a near fall. Riddle hit Styles with a running senton , then rolled Styles into a front face lock.
Styles fought to his feet, backed Riddle into the corner, and drive his shoulder into Riddle’s chest repeatedly. Riddle no-sold the attack and punched Styles into the opposing corner. Styles fought back with a dropkick. Styles let Riddle back to his feet. Matt kicked Styles into the corner. Styles fired back with a punch, then clotheslined Riddle to the apron. Styles dropkicked Riddle to the outside. Riddle bumped into King Corbin, who got in his face. Cole sent the show to commercial.
Styles had Riddle in a headlock when the show returned from commercial. He slammed him to the mat, then bounced his head off the turnbuckle. Cole said the wrestlers stayed out to “see what the hype is surrounding Matt Riddle.” Styles hit a snap suplex on Riddle for a two count.
Riddle wandered to his feet and he and Styles traded punches. Styles got the upper hand and raked Riddle’s face across the ropes. He took Riddle down with a snapmare, then hit a leaping knee to the neck. Riddle stood quickly and kicked at Styles’ legs. Styles cut him off with a dragon screw, then went to work on the legs.
Styles and Riddle traded back elbows. Riddle went for a roundhouse kick, but Styles ducked it and hit a chop block. Riddle begged off to the corner. Styles grabbed his leg, but Riddle hit a pump knee to the face. He caught Styles with a fisherman suplex.
Styles rose to his feet in the corner. Riddle hit a pair of running elbows, took Styles down and hit a running senton for a near fall. Riddle transitioned into the Bromission. Styles countered it into a cover for a two count. Riddle scooped Styles onto his shoulders, but Styles rolled through into the Calf Crusher. Riddle turned his body and reached the ropes, necessitating a break.
Styles headed to the outside and shoved Daniel Bryan. Several wrestlers held Bryan back as Styles got in his face. A.J. returned to the apron and set up for the Phenomenal Forearm. He leapt, but Riddle caught him and turned him into the BroDerek, covering him for a three count.
WINNER: Matt Riddle in 13:00
The babyfaces rushed the ring to celebrate with Matt Riddle. Cole called it one of the best debuts in Smackdown history.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Good match. That’s a statement win for Riddle, who seems to be right in the thick of things out of the gate. Last week, I’d have said this would be a development to celebrate more or less without reservation. With the accusations regarding Riddle’s past now coming to light, though, it’s hard to feel fully invested, or even comfortable, with this level of endorsement with so much uncertainty. Though I don’t think it’s right to set that aside, for the sake of analysis, I’ll say that Smackdown is in desperate need of fresh talent unhindered by WWE’s booking, and Matt Riddle certainly fits that bill.)
-Backstage, Jeff Hardy was being mic’ed up for an interview with Renee Young. Cole said it would happen after the break.
-Michael Cole threw to Progressive’s Match Flo, covering the Jeff Hardy and Sheamus rivalry to date.
-Backstage, Renee Young thanked Jeff Hardy for sitting down with her. She asked how Jeff is holding up. Jeff said it’s been a roller coaster. He said he’s been trying to turn his life around his entire adult life. “The bad times can haunt me if I let them,” he said.
Hardy said he feels like when he extinguishes one fire in front of him, another appears. Renee said it’s been uncomfortable to watch Sheamus target Jeff’s past struggles with addiction. She asked how he’s been dealing with his loss to Sheamus. Jeff said he’s lost many matches and will lose many more, but that Sheamus is a constant reminder of the things he dislikes about himself.
“If I could shut him up, it would prove that I’m resilient and I’m turning things around,” Jeff said. “I start to doubt whether I’m good enough, or if I’m a bad father. All of that comes back.” Jeff said he has to catch himself before that cycle of thinking spirals out of control. Hardy said sometimes, he believes the things Sheamus says. He said he is a junkie, for adrenaline, and he is an alcoholic.
“Sheamus has a problem with himself, he’s a miserable, insecure bully,” Hardy said. Jeff called Sheamus an obstacle in the way of his redemption and said he’s far from done.
(LeClair’s Analysis: This was a good interview for Jeff. Renee Young is exceptional at her job, is incredible disarming, and tends to get the absolute best interviews out of guys and girls who aren’t exactly strong on the microphone. Jeff has stumbled on the mic a few times during this feud, but he’s also had some of his better promos, particular under the WWE umbrella. This seemed earnest and was very effective.)
-Kayla Braxton approached Shorty G backstage and asked how he feels about his height and weight disadvantage against Mojo Rawley. G said it doesn’t matter. Mojo Rawley snuck up behind him. Shorty G said big guys don’t know what it’s like to have eyes in the back of your head. He turned around and punched Mojo. Cole said the match would be next.
(2) SHORTY G vs, MOJO RAWLEY
The bell rang when the show returned from break after showing the two awkwardly standing in opposing corners while the Smackdown theme music played and Michael Cole plugged Progressive. Mojo charged at Shorty G as soon as the bell rang and slammed him into the corner.
Mojo slapped Shorty G around, calling him “Gable” as he did it. He lifted G onto his shoulders, but Gable rolled through and tried to apply an ankle lock. Mojo fought out of it. Gable quickly hit a bridging northern lights suplex for a two count. Mojo shot to his feet and hit G with a running shoulder tackle for a near fall.
Rawley mounted Gable and slammed his head into the mat, then taunted the PC crowd. Mojo tossed G off the ropes, but Shorty G countered into a mounted sleeper. Mojo shook him off and crushed him in the corner. Mojo tried to follow up, but G countered into a deadlift German suplex.
Shorty G climbed to the top rope and leapt into Mojo’s arms. G rolled through into a small package for a three count.
WINNER: Shorty G in 3:00
(LeClair’s Analysis: I hate this kind of win. Shorty G gets beat up for three minutes, then catching Mojo with a roll up. Who gets over here? Mojo has been booked like a nobody, so beating him with a roll up means nothing. Shorty G, the smaller wrestler, gets beat up the whole match and then only wins because of a fluke. There’s nothing in this for anyone other than filling TV time. Chad Gable continues to be exponentially better than what they’re willing to give him. The Shorty G gimmick has a ridiculously low ceiling, coincidentally right around the constant start-stop win/loss cycle he always seems to find himself on.)
-The second hour kicked off with The Miz and John Morrison in the ring for MizTV. Miz said he needed to address the elephant in the room. “Otis,” Morrison instantly chimed in. Miz said he lost focus and pulled Morrison off of Braun Strowman at Backlash.
Morrison blamed it on WWE changing the rules, allowing only one person to become Universal champion. Miz said you don’t change the rules in any other major sporting event. He said they also had to worry about Otis, fearful he’d cash in his contract. Morrison said it’s almost as if they had to challenge for the title at a man disadvantage, despite it being a handicap match.
Miz turned his focus to Mandy Rose and welcomed her to MizTV. He called her relationship with Otis an “intriguing” romance. Miz brought up Mandy’s “best friend” Sonya Deville. Mandy corrected him, saying she’s her ex-best friend. They talked up Sonya. Mandy got angry and tried to leave, but Miz called her back, saying they were only joking.
Miz said they have a surprise for her. Sonya Deville walked onto the stage. Mandy said Sonya went behind her back and tried to sabotage her personal life and career. She said she’s done with this. Sonya said she can’t be done with this, because Mandy continuously gets the spotlight, undeserved.
Sonya said if not for Miz and Morrison, she’d be in catering twiddling her thumbs. She said only Mandy is mentioned in tonight’s promo for Smackdown. Deville said Rose does nothing with her opportunities – she doesn’t win matches, she doesn’t say anything important, she just makes out with Otis. “You should be really proud of yourself,” she snickered.
Mandy said that Sonya can hurt her physically, and try to hurt her mentally, but at least she has people standing by her side. “What is it that you have?” Mandy asked. She asked how long Sonya could hold onto petty resentment. Deville said she isn’t mad anymore, she’s just trying to figure out how to get the Mandy Rose treatment.
Deville said the only difference between them is “this”, referring to Mandy’s looks. She said she’s superior to her in every other way. “I’m gonna rip you apart until your outsides are just as hideous as what’s inside.” The two came to blows. Miz and Morrison stood back with their hands up.
Rose toppled Sonya, but Sonya positioned herself behind Miz and Morrison and left the ring. Mandy slapped Miz and left the ring.
(LeClair’s Analysis: I’m not sure why this needed to be a MizTV segment, short of getting Miz and Morrison on TV. They sure moved on quickly from their loss to Braun Strowman. It’s great that winning the Universal title meant so much to them. Mandy felt rigid and overly scripted, while Sonya continues to develop as a heel character. She’s a little over the top at times, and her promos are far from perfect, but she’s really finding herself. It was interesting for Rose to raise the point that Deville is entirely alone, though, given her affiliation with Dolph Ziggler which seemed to have just dissipated in recent weeks. I really liked that pairing and hoped they’d carry on with it.)
-After a hype video for Sasha Banks and Bayley, the duo headed to the ring and took a seat next to Michael Cole and Corey Graves on commentary. Cole sent the show to commercial.
-The New Day headed to the ring after the commercial. They threw their shirts at Bayley and Sasha, who screamed about the disrespect. Lucha House Party came to the ring.
(3) THE NEW DAY (Kofi Kingston & Big E) vs. LUCHA HOUSE PARTY (Gran Metalik & Lince Dorado)
Kofi Kingston began the match with Lince Dorado. They traded some quick arm takeovers as Bayley and Sasha called themselves the greatest tag team on commentary. Bayley told Cole how excited she is about her birthday celebration next week. She said she has no challengers left for the Women’s title.
In the ring, Kingston and Dorado threw simultaneous dropkicks and then locked up. Dorado rolled over Kofi and tagged in Gran Metalik. Metalik jumped off of Dorado’s shoulders onto Kingston for a two count. Kofi tagged in Big E, then Big E hit Metalik with a belly to belly suplex.
Lucha House Party tossed New Day outside the ring on opposing sides. They hit tandem dives to the outside. Cole sent the show to commercial.
Big E had Lince Dorado in a chin lock when the show returned from break. Dorado fought free, then dove off the top rope. Big E caught him, but Dorado slid down the back. Big E he a big shoulder tackle, then a running splash for a two count. Big E applied an abdominal stretch. Dorado elbowed himself free, then hit a springboard stunner. Both men tagged in their partners.
Kofi came off the ropes with a leaping axe handle. Dorado rebounded with a pair of kicks to the jaw, followed by a bulldog out of the corner. He flew off the middle rope, but Kofi caught him out of mid air with a drop kick for a two count. Cole continued to chat with Banks and Bayley and largely ignore the match.
Gran Metalik tagged in Lince Dorado, who caught Kofi with a splash off the top rope for a near fall. Lucha House Party double teamed Big E, who tried to get involved. They set up for a tandem splash off the top, but Big E dumped Metalik to the outside. Kofi tagged him in. New Day hit the Midnight Hour for the three count.
WINNERS: The New Day in 10:00
Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura immediately attacked New Day at the conclusion of the match. Cesaro hit Big E with the Neutralizer. He then began the swing on Kofi, tossing him right into a modified Kinshasa by Shinsuke Nakamura. Cesaro slapped hands with Bayley and Sasha, then told Corey and Michael that they’re tired of being overlooked.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Decent match, though it seemed like it was largely thrown out there to get mic time for Sasha Banks and Bayley, who were comedically annoying in a mostly positive way. I’m not sure this needed to go ten minutes, but the action was mostly solid, and the post-match angle with Cesaro and Nakamura is intriguing. I was critical of them getting a win over the tag champions last week, but it seems they had a plan in mind here. Cesaro was pretty clear that he and Shinsuke were frustrated about not being booked on the show after getting a decisive win over New Day last week. That’s a grievance that makes sense, and it immediately puts Cesaro and Nakamura in the conversation as a serious tag team focused on winning. I like that, and I like it even more for their characters in particular. I really hope this goes somewhere.)
-Alexa Bliss, Tamina, Naomi, Lacey Evans, and Dana Brooke were standing around a ring in the PC discussing who should be Bayley’s next challenger. Each woman ran through her qualifications and argued about who was most deserving. Bliss eventually wondered aloud where Nikki Cross went. They all looked around. The show went to commercial.
-Kayla Braxton welcomed the audience back from the break. She introduced Sheamus and asked him about Renee Young’s interview with Jeff Hardy. Sheamus said things have become pretty serious, and lines have been crossed. He said when Jeff called him a bully, it made him think. Sheamus smiled. “I am a bully, and people like Jeff Hardy deserve to be bullied.”
Sheamus said he thoroughly enjoyed Brogue Kicking his head off, but regrets that he didn’t crush is voice box to spare everyone from that interview. Sheamus said Jeff doesn’t really believe his own motivational speeches. “If Jeff Hardy doesn’t life himself up, I’ll gladly do it for him.” He announced a toast to Jeff Hardy on next week’s Smackdown. Sheamus laughed.
-Back at ringside, Banks and Bayley said they were excited to party with Sheamus. They were attacked from behind by Nikki Cross. Cross maniacally tossed both women around. Alexa Bliss rushed to the ring to pull her away. “Handle your little mutt friend!” Bayley screamed. Nikki challenged Sasha Banks. Banks refused, but Bayley accepted on her behalf. The show went to commercial.
(4) NIKKI CROSS (w/ Alexa Bliss) vs. SASHA BANKS (w/ Bayley)
The match was already in progress when the show returned from break. Sasha Banks was beatnik down Nikki Cross in the corner, but Nikki quickly recovered. Banks begged off, apologizing to Cross and asking for mercy. Cross attacked, sending Banks tot he outside and getting her caught up in the apron.
Cross tossed Banks in the ring at a count of seven. She climbed the ropes, but Banks escaped back to the outside. Cross hit a cross body to the outside, then tossed Banks back in the ring. Nikki splashed Sasha in the corner, then went for a running bulldog, but Sasha held on and hit a backstabber for a two count.
Banks backed Cross into the corner and stuck her boot in Nikki’s face. She threw her to the mat and applied a wrenching face lock. Banks drove her knee into Cross’ spine then stretched her arms. Nikki broke free and chopped Banks in the chest before catching her with a kick to the stomach.
Cross climbed the ropes again, then hit Banks with a tornado DDT for a near fall. Nikki scooped Banks for her hanging neckbreaker, but Banks countered out and hit a knee to the face. She rolled into the Bank Statement. Cross rolled through and into a crucifix pin for a two count.
Cross and Banks traded roll ups for two counts. Sasha hit the Meteor and covered Cross for a three count.
WINNER: Sasha Banks in 4:00 (partial)
(LeClair’s Analysis: What we were able to see was solid enough. Banks and Cross work well together. The booking was a bit odd here, having Cross issue a spirited challenge only to be beat by Banks fairly decisively. Basic storytelling would dictate that this is the end for Bliss and Cross challenging Banks and Bayley for the titles, but these types of feuds tend to simply meander with no real direction or end in sight.)
-A video highlighting Titus O’Neil aired. He’s a finalist for the Sports Humanitarian award via EPSN.
-Cole and Graves said a new episode of the Firefly Funhouse is next. Braun Strowman was shown watching a TV screen backstage.
-Michael Cole recapped the show’s opening segment involving A.J. Styles and Matt Riddle. Cole announced that Styles will defend the Intercontinental title against Drew Gulak next week.
(LeClair’s Analysis: Why? Did Styles have a change of heart? Who made this match? This doesn’t jive with A.J.’s promo from earlier in the night, and there was no indication from the announcers that the powers that be demanded the match.)
-The Firefly Funhouse title card aired. Bray Wyatt waved at the camera and said he missed everyone. He said he’d learned all the best Tik Tok moves, infiltrated an reptilian stronghold, and learned to knit. Ramblin’ Rabbit chimed in to say Bray was distracting himself from his loss to Braun Strowman.
“Thank you for reminding me, rabbit,” Bray said, upset. He said he realized he went about this whole thing the wrong way. He was cut off by Braun Strowman’s music. Strowman walked to the ring. Wyatt frowned and turned his thumbs down to Strowman from the screen.
Strowman told Wyatt that he’s already had his opportunity and failed. “This story is over,” Strowman declared. Bray laughed. “Our chapter may be over…” Bray said. He took on a southern accent. “But our story is just getting started.” Cult leader Bray Wyatt appeared on screen. He said he created Braun and so it is his duty to destroy him. “You know where to find me, all you have to do is follow the buzzards…” Bray held up his lantern and laughed. The show cut out abruptly.
(LeClair’s Analysis: So it seems as though this is going to be a three match series. Firefly Funhouse Bray Wyatt has already lost to Braun Strowman, now cult leader Bray Wyatt is going to lose to Braun Strowman. The logical conclusion, then, is that The Fiend is the last to face the champion. Thus far, I’ve found Strowman’s title to be abysmal. Bad matches, worse promos, and an all around mid-card presentation. I don’t see how a match against another iteration of Bray Wyatt (at least one that is not The Fiend) is of any interest. I understand the vibe they’re going for, but I just don’t think there’s any longing for that character, or even much of an interest in seeing Braun Strowman relive that period of his career. This seems misguided to me.)
FINAL THOUGHTS: I’m a fan of the serious presentation of Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura, the straightforward character work of A.J. Styles and Daniel Bryan, the fun being had by Sasha Banks and Bayley with their characters, and the earnest interview from Jeff Hardy. Outside of that, Smackdown continues to suffer from a lack of real star power. I’m reluctant to back Matt Riddle’s quick rise to prominence without first gathering more information about the accusation against him. Clearly, there is some concern within WWE because they entirely removed him from their show promotion. Despite that, there wasn’t enough concern to alter, diminish, or cancel his presence on tonight’s show. One has to wonder, had the show been live, if things would have been handled differently.
A couple of presentation notes: I thought the crowd was mic’ed a bit better than they have been in weeks past. Initially, I thought this was due largely in part to the wrestlers surrounding the ring during the night’s opening segment, but I thought the overall improved aesthetic carried through the rest of the show. If not the actual mics, perhaps the wrestlers in the crowd were just better directed on how and when to chant to seem more authentic.
Secondly, I did think there was a concerted effort to link segments together and have some positive flow throughout the show. Even if I don’t think all of those segments resulted in net positives, there did seem to be more cohesion than usual.