By Steven Flora
Shinsuke Nakamura and John Cena faced off in a first-time ever dream match on SmackDown Live. Elsewhere, AJ Styles defended the United States Championship against Kevin Owens in a high-stakes title rematch.
Nakamura meets Mahal for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam
No. 1 Contender's Match (With the winner facing WWE Champion Jinder Mahal at SummerSlam): Shinsuke Nakamura def. John Cena
The dream match no one ever thought they’d see became reality, as John Cena clashed against Shinsuke Nakamura in a monumental Team Blue main event, with the winner going on to SummerSlam to face WWE Champion Jinder Mahal.
The Modern-Day Maharaja and The Singh Brothers watched the action from high above in a luxurious skybox as The Cenation Leader and The King of Strong Style matched might in the squared circle. The atmosphere in Cleveland was electric as the two combatted one another with a barrage of strikes, high-impact maneuvers and excruciating submission holds.
Nakamura starts to block Cena’s strikes and hits the head kick, taking Cena down. Nakamura kips up and lays in more kicks to the body of Cena. Nakamura takes him to the corner and hits the running knee strike and covers for 2. Cena makes the comeback, playing the hits but Nakamura counters the five-knuckle shuffle into a triangle. Cena powers out, but Nakamura fights off the AA and hits a gourd buster. Nakamura charges, but the Kinshasa is countered into an STF by Cena. Nakamura quickly transitions to the arm bar. Cena escapes and turns Nakamura inside out with a lariat. Nakamura fires up, hits a knee and then Cena counters the Kinshasa and hits the AA but Nakamura kicks out at 2. That was a good near fall and great crowd reaction for it. Nakamura counters another AA into a guillotine, but Cena hercs him up into the AA, rolls through into another, but Nakamura counters out and hits the reverse XPLODER and Cena lands on his damn neck! The KINSHASA connects, and Nakamura wins! Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura.
Side Note: One of the best main events on Smackdown Live since the split. Both men brought everything they had and I hope Cena's neck is intact after that Xploder. I had a theory before this match that if Cena went over, he'd lose to Mahal in order to further legitimize Mahal as a top heel champion, and if Nakamura went over, he'd win. Now that Cena's out of the title picture, perhaps Nakamura is the guy to lead Team Blue into the future. Much like he did with NXT, WWE may see him as the face of Smackdown to take it into the already new era. Regardless of what happens at SummerSlam Nakamura deserves this and I'm glad Cena put over Nakamura tonight.
Controversy surrounds the U.S. Title match
U.S. Title Match: WWE United States Champion A.J. Styles def Kevin Owens
Owens looks to overpower and ground Styles to begin. Styles picks up the pace, but misses the dropkick and is sent to the floor. Owens follows and hits a clothesline to take Styles down. Owens grounds Styles with the side headlock, and we’re back to full screen as Styles counters and hits a lariat. The corner clothesline and ushigoroshi follows for 2. Styles rolls into the calf crusher, but Owens escapes with a head butt. Styles misses a charge, but counters the package side slam, and hits the PELE. Owens fights off the clash, but Styles rolls into the calf crusher again. Owens teases tapping, and makes the ropes. Owens then hits a pair of superkicks, looks for the big right but we get a ref bump. Superkick by Owens, but Styles counters the pop up powerbomb into a cradle for the win. Owens argues with the ref that he had a shoulder up, with commentary playing up that the ref couldn’t see after getting hit. Winner: A.J. Styles (c)
Side Note: Really solid opening match with an idiotic ending. Seriously when you notice a referee getting too close to the action you know he's getting involved one way or the other. I was initially surprised because I assumed KO would take on Shane at SummerSlam, however, it seems as though that feud is being intertwined with Styles making for a combustible situation in Brooklyn. Nevertheless, I've been happy with each of their matches so far and hopefully the feud can be put to rest at SummerSlam and then we can have fresh opponents for both KO and A.J. Styles.
Orton vows to silence the Bulgarian Brute
Rusev def. Chad Gable
Looks like Gable kept the American Alpha music in the split. Rusev looks to use his power early, easily avoiding takedowns and tossing Gable aside. Gable works for a takedown, but Rusev makes the ropes. Rusev then tosses Gable to the floor, but Gable is right back in and drags Rusev to the mat. Gable then starts to pick apart the leg, but Rusev cuts him off with a knee strike and suplex. Gable up top now, but Rusev is up and tries to cut him off, Gable backflips into the ring, avoids the charge and hits the moonsault for a great near fall. Gable sets, and looks for the chaos theory but Rusev escapes and hits the superkick for 2. Rusev fires up and looks for the accolade, but Gable counters out and applies the ankle lock! Rusev fights, and kicks Gable to the floor. Gable back in and eats a superkick, and Rusev applies the accolade and Gable has to tap. Winner: Rusev.
Post match, Rusev says he was promised competition. Cena may have waved his flag at Battleground, but he didn’t beat him. Everyone is afraid of Rusev and he has no opponent for SummerSlam. Randy Orton’s music hits and he makes his way to the ring. Orton circles the ring and then says Rusev shouldn’t want him to get in the ring. Rusev backs off and allows Orton to get into the ring. Orton says Rusev has never beaten him and he’s not afraid of Rusev either, and he’ll be his opponent at SummerSlam. Rusev rants in Bulgarian, so Orton lays him out with the RKO.
Side Note: Firstly the match was good and really showed off Chad Gable as a credible superstar when he's up against strong opposition like the Bulgarian Brute. As impressive as Gable is, Rusev needed the victory after the loss he suffered at Battleground. Moving forward this feud seems to be put together because everyone else is in their retrospective programs for SummerSlam. If anything this should be on the kickoff show as the outcome bears no relevance/interest to the WWE universe.
Champion’s advantage heading into SummerSlam
Smackdown Women's Champ Naomi & Becky Lynch def. Carmella & Natalya
Becky and Natalya to begin. Becky takes control and works Natalya to the ropes. Becky fires back with kicks, float over in the corner and grounds Natalya and tags Naomi in, who hits a sunset flip and they work some double teams, with Naomi getting a near fall. Carmella tags in and talks trash, so Naomi works leg kicks, but Carmella cuts her off with a slap. Naomi hits a dropkick, and then fights off Natalya, but the distraction allows Carmella to take control. Natalya tags in and they work some double teams, with Natalya covering for 2. Naomi makes the ropes and Carmella tags in and locks in her code of silence, but Naomi counters into her neck crank submission as Becky takes out Natalya. Carmella taps. Winner: Naomi & Becky Lynch.
Side Note: This was OK for what is was. It was a match put together that delivered but in all honesty no one cared about the result as it beared no real impact/interest on the WWE universe. Alternatively though, at least we didn't have Tamina & Lana again. That would have been bad for business.
Other Notable Moments
Aiden English took on Sami Zayn in your average matchup. English does his singing intro. Zayn & Dillinger beat Kanellis & English last week. Not a good sign for Mike Kanellis that he lost last week and on the PPV beforehand and English gets the singles match here. They work a solid back and forth to begin, and then Sami picks up the pace and grounds English, but English cradles him for … the win. Winner: Aiden English.
We now get a “Fashion Peaks” segment, playing off of Twin Peaks now. With Fandango missing, Breeze is on his own. The bulletin board again kicks ass. He fears extraterrestrials may have taken Fandango. The lights flicker and Fandango is back along with the Ascension. Things get freaky and Breeze wakes up, it was all a dream. Now says he knows who kidnapped Fandango … to be continued ...
The Usos arrive, doing the New Day style intro. They make fun of the New Day for riding a bicycle and talking about each other’s popsicles. They took New Day to the Uso penitentiary last week. They can keep the ice cream, unicorns and socks, but they are stealing their catchphrase ... “U..sos rock. U…sos rock.”
Overall Smackdown Live Rating: B+
Things to look forward to next week
Who kidnapped Fandango?
What is the situation between Corbin & Cena?
How will Owens respond to Shane McMahon as the special guest referee?
How will Natalya gain important momentum heading into SummerSlam?
Will Tye Dillinger & Sami Zayn be used effectively?