Welcome to the latest episode of SmackDown Live, the go-home show leading up to Backlash on Sunday. We’re back to live action after a couple of underwhelming taped episodes from the O2 in London last week, and with another mediocre showing from Raw last night, the Blue Team once again had a chance to be the best show of the week.
A lot of stuff happened in the days leading up to Tuesday night. Most notably, Randy Orton went PEAK RANDY ORTON and inadvertently ignited a war among Wrestling Twitter in the process, which admittedly, doesn’t take much. While I don’t really mind Orton more-or-less owning the fact that he’s an asshole, I did find myself daydreaming about how funny it would if he came out tonight, refused to do the RKO, and started dropping dudes with Canadian Destroyers instead. Needless to say, I was disappointed.
In addition, we got a ton of information Tuesday morning about what the show had in store for us. The aforementioned Randy Orton would take on Baron Corbin in what many think is a preview to a not-so-distant WWE World Heavyweight Title match. Two Backlash title contenders would face off in A.J. Styles and Jinder Mahal. Even with The Miz, Chris Jericho, and Dean Ambrose all recently departing SmackDown Live, they still find a way to stick us with a talk show segment (Kevin Owens doing his version of The Highlight Reel). All six women competing in Sunday’s tag match will undergo a contract signing (sad face), and we possibly get the return of Rusev (happy face)!
Will Rusev show up and get his title match? Will Randy Orton finish off Corbin with a Pepsi Plunge? Will the contract signing end up in a brawl, or will all six women simply write their names on a piece of paper and leave? Read on to find out!
Kevin Owens’ Highlight Reel opens the show, and predictably uses the first minute or two to remind us that he’s really only able to do the show because he put Jericho on the shelf (even though he can be seen on the WWE Network belting out the theme song for NXT Takeover: Chicago). We told you kayfabe was dead. A.J. Styles cuts off Owens’ weekly display of Frenchness, and he’s soon interrupted by Jinder Mahal.
It’s a very short and “whatever” opening segment, which makes sense because they kind of already did this last week minus the talk show set. The segment leads us into the first match of the night, Styles vs. Mahal with K.O. on commentary.
There’s a moment during the match after a Bollywood Boys distraction where Mahal lands a knee to A,J.’s face and I literally said out loud, “holy shit they’re putting Jinder over Styles,” but he’s able to get the shoulder up and I snap back to reality. That’s probably not the type of emotion you want your World Title contender to evoke. In the end, Mahal actually does go over Styles, but only after Kevin Owens delivers a shot to A.J.’s knee with the United States Title, so it wasn’t quite as surprising at that point.
Kyle Ross put it best in his SmackDown Live preview: it there’s one guy who could get an outstanding match out of Jinder, it’s A.J. Styles. We wanted to see something great tonight, knowing that there would be at least some downgrade when Styles is replaced by Orton on Sunday night. If there’s one thing I learned after the opening match, it’s that Dolph Ziggler was right. They ARE building Backlash around Shinsuke Nakamura’s debut, because they sure as hell can’t build it around Mahal vs. Orton. At least not from the evidence we have thus far in regards to what The Maharaja can and can’t do in the ring. It’s almost like there’s a downside to putting a rocket on an unproven guy based solely on the fact that he’s ripped and your company is launching a show in the Middle East. Who knew?
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