LECLAIR’S WWE SMACKDOWN REPORT 7/3: Alt perspective, detailed coverage of Styles vs. Gulak, Sheamus toasts Jeff Hardy, more

By Brandon LeClair, PWTorch contributor


JULY 3, 2020

Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves

-After the standard Smackdown intro, Michael Cole welcomed the audience to the Performance Center, featuring a fully masked crowd, as newly mandated. Cole teased a preview of the “Wyatt Swamp Fight,” while Corey Graves talked up A.J. Styles Intercontinental title defense against Drew Gulak. “A toast to Jeff Hardy” rounded out the night’s rundown.

-Michael Cole stood in the ring and introduced Matt Riddle. Corey Graves tossed to a recap of Riddle’s debut against A.J. Styles two weeks ago.

Cole asked Matt Riddle if he could put into words what it meant to beat A.J. Styles in his debut. “Not really,” Riddle said. He said it was the culmination of a dream and a lot of hard work. He said Styles punching him in the face was an out of body experience, because he respects Styles. “I’m pretty sure I like A.J. more than he likes me,” Riddle said.

Riddle listed off wrestlers he shared the ring with last week and said “I could get used to this.” Cole asked about Riddle’s bare feet during his matches. Riddle said it’s a long story. He said his family took him to Wisconsin in the winter time when he was a kid. He’d swim in the indoor pool, then run out barefoot into the snow. One time, he said, he stayed out a little too long and his feet started burning. He was diagnosed with frost bite. “They were even talking about amputating the bro’s tootsies,” Riddle said.

“Anytime I put my feet in shoes, I get that burning sensation again.” Cole told him to keep competing barefoot. King Corbin’s music interrupted the interview. Corbin headed to the ring as Riddle looked on. Corbin told Riddle he could’ve saved everyone a bunch of time by just saying, “when I was a little kid, I was an idiot.” Corbin said he’s still an idiot.

Corbin chastised Michael Cole for giving Matt Riddle airtime. He told Cole to get out of his ring. Corbin said what Riddle did to him last week was a true sign of disrespect. “This isn’t gonna be tolerated,” Corbin said, “nobody is happy you’re here.” Corbin promised to make Riddle pay.

“You do you, bro,” Riddle brushed Corbin off. Corbin said on Smackdown, Riddle needs to be ready for a match at any moment. He said someone needs to put Riddle in his place and slap him around. Riddle challenged Corbin. Corbin said you don’t just get to face the king out of the blue. John Morrison’s music played. He and The Miz walked to the ring. The show went to commercial.

(LeClair’s Analysis: It was a good move to try to humanize the Matt Riddle character, generally speaking. The story about his childhood was a nice touch, and, while Riddle didn’t come off like a great promo, he did come off relatively natural. He’s got a unique personality that stands out in the pro wrestling sense, and that’s a net positive. Still, it’s impossible to comment on a segment like this without questioning judgment of WWE to continue on with their plans for Riddle as if nothing happened. There’s still an elephant in the room that should’ve been vetted and fully addressed before making Riddle a full fledged weekly roster member.)


The bell rang as soon as the show returned from commercial. Matt Riddle kicked off his flip flops toward King Corbin, who’d taken a seat at the announcers desk. Cole rightfully wondered how Corbin gets to make matches. In the ring, Matt Riddle and John Morrison traded lock ups and take downs.

Morrison worked Riddle to the matt and the two engaged in quick succession chain wrestling. Riddle tried to apply a leg lock, but Morrison quickly reached the ropes. Morrison teased another lock up, but caught Riddle hard in the jaw with an elbow. Riddle stumbled, allowing Morrison to drop Riddle.

Matt Riddle recovered quickly and grabbed a gut wrench on Morrison, hitting multiple takedowns. Morrison eventually countered out into a slam of his own. He tried for a kick off the ropes, but Riddle caught his leg and rolled through in an ankle lock. Riddle released the hold, grabbed a waist lock and tried for a German suplex. Morrison landed on his knees and caught Riddle with a springboard kick off the middle rope.

John Morrison dropped Matt Riddle with a couple knees to the gut. He slapped on a side headlock and worked Riddle over. Riddle slowly fought to his feet, but Morrison punched him into the corner. Morrison slid out onto the apron and caught Riddle with a quick kick, followed by a diving corkscrew cross body for a two count.

Riddle tried to pick Morrison’s leg on the way up, but Morrison cut him off with a knee to the gut, then a running knee for a near fall. Morrison applied another headlock. Riddle rose to his feet. Riddle invited a barrage of kicks and chops from Morrison. Morrison removed his elbow pad, but then poked Riddle in the eye. Morrison set him up for a suplex, but Riddle countered it into a capture fisherman suplex.

Both men answered the referee’s count at seven. Morrison dumped Riddle to the outside. Riddle grabbed a flip flop and hit Corbin in the face with it. Corbin chased Riddle back into the ring as Cole sent the show to commercial.

Riddle and Morrison traded punches as the show returned from break. Riddle caught Morrison with a capture suplex, then went for a standing moonsault. Morrison rolled out of the way, but Riddle landed on his feet. Riddle hit the Bro to Sleep, followed by a Northern Lights suplex for a near fall. Riddle headed to the top rope for the Floating Bro, but Morrison got his knees up.

John Morrison swept Riddle’s legs, then scooped him into a crucifix position, spinning Riddle into an unique looking sideslam for another near fall. After a brief struggle, Riddle managed to lock in the Bromission, but Morrison used the turnbuckle break the hold. Both mean ascended the ropes. Morrison caught Riddle with a Spanish Fly from the top rope, then immediately hit him with a second Spanish Fly on the ground. Morrison covered for another near fall.

Riddle and Morrison rose to their knees, trading elbows. Riddle caught Morrison with a kick, then a ripcord knee. He went for a power bomb, but Morrison rolled through it. Riddle grabbed him again and hit the power bomb, followed by a running knee for a near fall. Riddle scooped Morrison, but The Miz jumped on the apron. Riddle shoved him off. Corbin leaped onto the other side. Riddle dropped him as well. Morrison tried for a roll up, but Riddle countered into one of his own for a three count.

WINNER: Matt Riddle in 16:00

Matt Riddle left the ring and was immediately attacked by A.J. Styles. Drew Gulak rushed out after, attacking Styles. A group of agents and referees rushed from the back to contain the chaos. Cole sent the show to commercial.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Really, really good match. John Morrison has participated in his fair share of below-par segments with Miz in recent weeks and months, but he’s been an excellent in-ring addition to the roster overall, especially during this Performance Center era. Matt Riddle is showing very quickly why, aside from any controversy outside of the ring, he could be an incredibly valuable asset to the company. I still have a number of reservations about putting him out there as the situation stands, though.)

-John Morrison and The Miz stood with King Corbin, fuming backstage. Sarah Schreiber approached. Corbin said he’d “pull some strings” and make sure the feet are cut out from Riddle’s career.

(2) A.J. STYLES (c) vs. DREW GULAK – WWE Intercontinental title match

The bell rang the moment camera returned to ringside, sans formal introductions. A.J. Styles attacked Drew Gulak immediately, dropping him in the corner, kicking him, then tossing him across the ring. Styles drove his shoulder into Gulak’s side repeatedly, then tossed him to the outside.

Styles caught Gulak with a baseball slide to the outside. He slammed Gulak’s head off the apron, then dragged his face across the edge of the ring. Styles tossed Gulak inside, then elbowed his ear. Gulak retreated to the corner. Styles set him up for a suplex, but Gulak kicked him away. Daniel Bryan joined the announcers via Zoom on a picture-in-picture display.

Styles applied a chin lock, but Gulak fought to his feet and broke the hold. Styles didn’t let up, punching Gulak then sweeping his leg before driving his boot into Gulak’s face. Cole and Graves continued bringing in Bryan via Zoom to ask him questions about both Gulak and Styles.

Gulak managed to connect with a few punches, but Styles cut him off by catching his leg and twisting him to the mat. Styles continued wrenching the leg, setting up for the Calf Crusher. Styles tried to roll into the Calf Crusher, but Gulak blocked it and rolled into a hold of his own. Styles quickly reached the ropes to break.

Styles headed to the outside and became furious at himself. Gulak gave Styles a baseball slide through the middle rope. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Out of the break, Gulak backed Styles into the corner and hit several shoulder thrusts. Styles battled out and tossed Gulak into the ring post, then hit a brain buster for a two count. On Zoom, Daniel Bryan discussed Gulak’s technical skill and how it surpasses his own.

A.J. Styles hit a running backbreaker out of the corner then wrenched at Gulak’s eyes while shielding his action from the referee. After a brief struggle, Gulak managed to scoop Styles and bounce his face off the top turnbuckle, buying some time. Gulak hit a trio of running missile dropkicks, sending reeling. Gulak followed up with a sit out slam for a near fall. He lifted Styles onto the top rope, but Styles slid out from underneath him and hit a running power bomb. Styles held his grip, lifted Gulak, and hit the Styles Clash.

Gulak laid motionless as Styles caught his breath. He lifted Gulak to his feet and propped him on the ropes. Styles headed to the apron, set up, then hit the Phenomenal Forearm for a three count.

WINNER: A.J. Styles in 17:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Good match. Drew Gulak can usually be counted on for unique offense and an accessible, technical flair. This was no exception. A.J. Styles, incredible in his own right, has been benefiting from working with some unique, motivated opponents in recent weeks. It’s bringing out the best in him, and his best is hard to beat. If Styles can regularly have this type of match, his Intercontinental title run could be really great. This was a well told story, too, with Styles getting frustrated that he couldn’t put Gulak away as quickly as he’d like, then feeling the need to make a statement when he was absolutely sure he had the match in hand. This is exactly the kind of finish you want in this match – Styles, the better overall performer with a higher place on the card, gets a decisive win after dominating much of the match, but struggling to put Gulak away as quickly as he believed he should. WWE has told similar stories with far less success, even recently.)

-Sasha Banks and Bayley headed to the ring after the commercial break. They flaunted their titles on the way to the ring. Bayley said they’ve rolled through “just about everybody” this week – highlighting Banks’ victory over Asuka on Monday, and showing up at Full Sail on Wednesday. Bayley talked about their presence on all three brands, then said she got a call from The Undertaker.

Bayley said Taker, as she calls him, told her that he’s embarrassed by the amount of attention paid to him, when she and Sasha Banks are “redefining what it means to be champion.” Bayley said The Undertaker told her that he can’t wait for she and Bayley to win their matches at Extreme Rules and hold all the titles. She claimed Undertaker told her to tell management to hold a tribute for she and Bayley.

Bayley suggested they hold a tribute to the two of them tonight. Sasha Banks introduced a video package for the two of them. It featured interviews with the two of them, talking each other up. When the show returned live, Bayley and Sasha led each other in dueling “thank you” chants. Alexa Bliss’ music cut them off.

Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross came to the ring with a list of facts talking each other up. Bliss said Cross is 325th in line to become the Queen in England. Cross said Bliss made history as the first woman to drive across Antarctica in a go-cart. She and Bliss applauded each other’s accomplishments.

They stepped in the ring. Banks said no one has been able to touch them, especially Bayley, in the last year. She called Cross a “hyper little runt.” Cross said she has heart, and she knows she can become Smackdown Women’s Champion. Banks and Bayley laughed uproariously. Bliss punched Bayley in the face. Banks volunteered Bayley to face Alexa Bliss. Bliss quickly accepted.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Bliss and Cross’ interruption fell a little flat. The jokes weren’t good, and it led to an awkward silence as they got in the ring. Banks and Bayley continued to be the perfect amount of obnoxious. The video package was perfect for their characters, with each serving as their other’s biggest (and only) fan.)

(3) BAYLEY (w/ Sasha Banks) vs. ALEXA BLISS (w/ Nikki Cross)

Bayley continued to sell her jaw as the bell rang out of the commercial break. Bliss tripped Bayley into the ropes, then caught her with a dropkick. Bliss sent Bayley int other corner and delivered a slap, then shoved her to the ground and covered her for a two count.

Bliss followed up with double knees and a moonsault for another two count. Bayley countered Bliss out of the corner and shot her out to the apron. She set up for a neckbreaker, but Bliss dropped to the floor and pulled Bayley down by the feet. Bayley quickly recovered and dragged Bliss back in the ring, working over her arm.

Bayley locked Bliss’s arms and forced her to slap herself. She continued to work over the arm and elbow. Bliss fought out slowly. She jawed at Cross, allowing Bliss to recover and roll her up for a two count. Bayley tossed Bliss to the corner and hit a running elbow, then went back to work on the arm.

Bliss managed to catch Bayley with a stiff right, but she sold the effects of Bayley’s attacks. Bayley quickly ripped Bliss to the mat and slammed her arm on the apron. Bayley fired up like Nikki Cross, mocking her offense. She hit Bliss with a corner bulldog for a near fall.

Bayley coaxed Nikki Cross into leaping on the apron, which caught the attention of the referee and allowed Sasha Banks to attack Alexa Bliss from the apron. This incensed Cross, who shot across the ring to attack Banks. Bayley yelled at Cross, leading Nikki to snap and attack her, resulting in a disqualification.

WINNER: Bayley in 6:00

Sasha Banks was able to grab Bayley and pull her from the ring to stop the attack. Bliss and Cross held the ring, Cross screaming wildly at Bayley.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Not a great match, but I thought the psychology here was solid, with Bliss’ arm getting attacked relentlessly, and impacting her ability to make a proper babyface comeback. Bliss sold the attacks well, especially after he own offense. Bayley was expertly annoying. I don’t necessarily mind the DQ finish, but I don’t like that it makes Cross look uncontrolled. Bayley looks smart for inciting an attack, not foolish for provoking the babyface.)

-After the break, Michael Cole and Corey Graves talked up the history between Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman. They threw to a “preview” of the Wyatt Swamp match.

The video package was  a collection of archival clips of Bray Wyatt over generic swamp footage, with audio clips of Strowman’s promo last week mixed in. It gave way to a recap of their Money in the Bank title match, and cult leader Wyatt’s return.

-Big E’s voice filled the Performance Center and he and Kofi Kingston headed to the ring. Big E completed his new side roll down the ramp. Cole said Kofi Kingston would face Shinsuke Nakamura after the break.

The Progressive Match Flo recapped Nakamura and Cesaro’s attack on New Day on last week’s Smackdown.

Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro headed to the ring following the commercials and recap.

(4) KOFI KINGSTON (w/ Big E) vs. SHINSUKE NAKAMURA (w/ Cesaro)

Kofi Kingston dropped Shinsuke Nakamura into the corner with a running dropkick at the bell. He tried to build off the momentum, but Nakamura cut him off and shot him toward the ropes. Kofi leapt onto the second rope and caught Nakamura with a springboard dropkick. Nakamura fell to the outside.

Kingston, sporting an “Elijah” arm band this week, teased a dive to the outside but thought better of it when Nakamura side stepped. He climbed to the outside, where Nakamura briefly took control. Kingston rebounded by tossing Nakamura into the plexiglass boards. Big E laughed heartily.

Back in the ring, Nakamura distracted the referee long enough for Cesaro to punch Kofi in the face. Big E chased Cesaro around the ring. The referee wound up tossing both Big E and Cesaro from ringside for their antics. Cole sent the show to commercial.

Kofi struggled to break Nakamura’s headlock when the show returned from commercial. Nakamura dropped him, hit a double knee and covered Kofi for a two count. Nakamura hung Kofi up in the ropes, then hit the sliding snap German suplex. He returned to the ring, set Kofi up in the corner and fired off kicks and punches to Kofi’s gut.

Kingston battled back with punches of his own. Nakamura cut him off with a running back elbow. He taunted Kofi with kicks to the small of the back. Nakamura draped Kofi on the apron, slid to the outside and hit a running kick. Back in the ring, he covered Kofi for a two count.

Nakamura applied another headlock. Kingston fought free with elbows, then a running shoulder tackle. Kofi followed up with a standing dropkick, but missed with a leaping clothesline. Nakamura connected with a flurry of strikes, but Kofi still managed to leap to the top rope and dive for a cross body. Nakamura got his knees up and covered for a near fall.

Kingston fought to his feet and went for a surprise Trouble in Paradise, but Nakamura ducked it and hit a spinning wheel kick. He set up for the Kinshasa, but Kofi jumped clear over Nakamura, then caught him with the S.O.S. for a near fall. Both men returned to their feet. Nakamura attempted to slide through Kofi’s legs, but Kofi caught him with a double stomp. He set up for Trouble in Paradise, but Nakamura caught him in a sleeper, then raked his eyes and hit the Kinshasa for a three count.

WINNER: Shinsuke Nakamura 12:00

(LeClair’s Analysis: Solid match. I’ve talked into detail about my belief that Shinsuke Nakamura has seemed significantly more motivated since being paired with Cesaro. Perhaps it’s just because I like the pairing, but I thought he seemed fully engaged in this singles match as well. I’m generally indifferent about the result here. It’s a long running complaint of mine that the Smackdown tag team division is loaded with 50/50 booking and general disregard for the status of the champions. That continues here. New Day loses frequently, trades the titles on a whim, and more or less falls in a line of parity with the rest of the division at all times. I like the idea of Nakamura getting a clean win to build up the challengers, but I simply have no faith in WWE actually carrying forward momentum from week to week.)

After the match, Cesaro returned to the ring and grabbed a table. Big E rushed to the ring to thwart the heels’ plans.

-Michael Cole and Corey Graves teased next week’s show, including a tag match between Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross against Bayley and Sasha Banks, and a Smackdown Tag Team title match between New Day and Shinsuke Nakamura & Cesaro. Finally, they announced that the Universal title match between Braun Strowman and Bray Wyatt from Money in the Bank will be shown in its entirety.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Hold up, why not put the tag team title match at Extreme Rules? It could easily steal the show if given some time. Kudos to WWE, I guess, for filming less new content under dire circumstances, but, I hope they don’t expect big returns in the ratings from the opening chapter of a lukewarm feud and a match that simply wasn’t very good.)

-The ring was shown set up for Sheamus’ toast to Jeff Hardy, coming up after the break.

-Jeff Hardy headed to the ring following the show’s final commercial break. He shook his head at the bar set up in the ring. Hardy quickly grabbed a microphone and called out Sheamus.

Sheamus appeared on the screen from home. He said he decided to give Jeff some personal space. He congratulated Jeff on defending The Undertaker’s honor. He said Jeff was looking for a quick fix, and he’s bound to fall back into his dangerous cycle. “You have a problem,” Sheamus said. He said it’s not even drugs and alcohol, it’s with facing reality.

Sheamus said Jeff has been walking around feeling sorry for himself, and so he went looking for a quick pick-me-up by standing up for someone else. “It’s sad, it’s pathetic, it breaks my heart,” Sheamus claimed. He said he can’t bare to see Hardy do this to himself. He said the solution is in one of the bottles in the ring. He toasted to Hardy and claimed his life has been nothing but a series of D.U.I.’s and mugshots. He called him a junkie.

Hardy said Sheamus is the sickest person he’s ever met. He asked if it’s funny to make fun of his and many other’s struggles. Sheamus said he’s not here to hurt, but rather, to help. “You don’t have to live a lie anymore,” Sheamus said. He claimed there’s nothing Hardy would rather do than “jump back into the gutter with both feet.”

“Bombs away!” Sheamus exclaimed as he took a drink. Sheamus’ bartender offered Hardy an identical glass. Sheamus told him not to pretend, to just follow his instincts. Hardy took the glass, appearing to give in. He lifted it to his lips, but then poured it over the bartender’s head.

Hardy grabbed a bottle and smashed it over the bartender with some painfully edited audio. Hardy hit him with a Swanton Bomb and stared down Sheamus on the screen as the show faded out.

(LeClair’s Analysis: Rough segment. There seemed to be a poorly mixed stock sound effect of a bottle breaking around the time Hardy cracked one over the bartender’s head. After weeks of build up, not having Sheamus in the building really dragged this down considerably. I presume his absence is for very good reason and I suppose you have to work with what you have, but, with that in mind, I think it was a mistake closing the show with this. It’s indicative of how bad the storytelling is on Smackdown when this is really the only major angle playing out on weekly television.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: I thought the first hour of this show was strong from a wrestling perspective, and even in the storytelling sense. As previously discussed, I still question the merit of featuring Matt Riddle so heavily given the accusations surrounding him. The second hour saw a significant decline and the closing segment of the show was an abject disappointment. I’m a broken record at this point, but the lack of star power on Smackdown is becoming more apparent every week. Following last week’s debacle of a show, this week felt like a fairly solid improvement, but that’s hardly an endorsement. If you’re not averse to being exposed to Matt Riddle right now, I recommend giving the opener a watch, and I’d argue Styles vs. Gulak is worth the time as well. Wrestling isn’t necessary the problem on Friday nights, it’s everything else.

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