By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
One of the reasons a dual-branded show like SummerSlam is so interesting is the chance it provides us to compare the booking quality and talent level of each brand. Smackdown’s contribution to one of the biggest shows of the year certainly proves the blue team has big names, but has its creative staff given the talent the chance to shine in the ring with good stories or ways to create drama? I don’t see it. Instead, Smackdown’s half of the giant SummerSlam card is like the show: full of potential, but in the end inconsistent and disappointing. Let’s look at the clear B-side of the SummerSlam schedule by breaking down Smackdown’s lineup.
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The New Day vs. The Usos
(SummerSlam Kickoff Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: This will be one of the first matches of the night, going off before the 7 p.m. start time for the main card. The placement makes sense, since no one wants to see this match again. It feels like these teams have been fighting since last year’s SummerSlam, and most people seem done with it based on how little buzz the feud has anymore. The scary thing is I can see it continuing. There’s no obvious place for either team to go after this, and with Hell in a Cell coming soon, there is a good place for it to end in the future. I don’t think they’ll put this match in a cell in October, but I can see it getting that far. If I’m right, the belts stay on New Day, with the Usos having another reason to chase them. New Day wins, and we all yearn for something new.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: The Usos beat New Day in a non-title match last week on Smackdown, which automatically, based on WWE logic, means New Day will win this match and retain their tag team titles Sunday. That’s all well and good, but New Day just doesn’t have the same magic they had while on Raw, and their schtick has grown tired and old and I really couldn’t care less about them. The Usos reinvented themselves in the best possible way months ago, as I never liked their good-guy personas, and would tune out as soon as they came on screen. They’ve never been better, although still not doing much for me personally. The New Day now needs to reinvent themselves. I’m going with the New Day to retain their titles, though, and with Breezango coming back in two weeks, maybe there’s a possible feud there. It would have the potential to entertain. I still think a new Nation of Domination would work with the New Day in those roles. It would be a stark change for sure, making it unlikely.
Randy Orton vs. Rusev
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: The plus side of having Randy Orton on your roster is his reliability. You know you have a solid wrestler who can tell a decent story. The negative to having the Viper around is knowing all you’ll get from him is a solid match and a decent story. The depressing thing about this match is that it could have been a strong story. Instead, it feels like an old WCW mid-card feud, where two fairly big names fight for no reason. Orton wins to make up for losing to Jinder Mahal, while Rusev’s career plummets. At least no one will desecrate the flag this time.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Of the six Smackdown matches on the SummerSlam card, there is just two I actually want to watch, and this isn’t one of them. In a pairing that had to be put together to simply get both Orton and Rusev on the card, there is no reason to be interested in this match. If Orton wins, who cares? If Rusev wins, sure it’ll be a little surprising, but who really cares? Orton isn’t going to be champion again, at least we should all hope not, so he’s just appearing for the sake of appearing. The WWE seems to have it in for Rusev for some reason, so even with a victory here, it really won’t make much of a difference. He could be the next challenger for AJ Styles and the US title, if Styles beats Kevin Owens, but I don’t believe anyone can see Rusev beating Styles. Plus, if Rusev does win, I could easily see Orton beating him on the next episode of Smackdown. I guess it could be interesting to see Chad Gable interfere and get payback on Rusev from last Tuesday’s beating, costing him the match, but even that’s pretty ho-hum. I’ll go with Orton winning because, as Straub points out, I can’t see him losing yet another PPV match.
SmackDown Women’s Champion Naomi vs. Natalya
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: The Raw women’s title is being battled for by two great wrestlers who could have a really good match. The Smackdown women’s title match is between Naomi and Natalya. Thankfully, neither woman will leave with the belt, as Carmella is going to cash in and win the belt in New York to what should be a big pop. You could argue they should wait for the cash in, but I can’t picture letting this match play out to a completion without it, or it would have been on the kickoff show.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: This is easily the worst match on the card and probably shouldn’t even be on the main show to begin with, considering how many matches have to be squeezed into a four-hour window. Naomi just isn’t a big enough personality to be champion, or even a challenger for that matter. Just look to last week’s Smackdown, where she had absolutely nothing to say on commentary. It was cringeworthy and shows she can’t be a top-level talent in the women’s division. Just as bad is Natalya, who can’t play the heel role at all, smiling at the worst possible times in the ring. It’s an overall embarrassing situation for the SDLive women, especially considering Charlotte and Becky Lynch, who are immensely more talented than the women in this title match, are sitting this one out. Unless WWE wants to “reward” Natalya with a title win, it doesn’t make sense for Naomi to lose this match. So, Naomi wins, BUT, Miss Money in the Bank, Camella, will ruin the celebration, cash in, and win the belt. That opens up a ton of new and fresh matches, including Carmella vs. Lynch and Carmella vs. Charlotte down the line.
United States Champion AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens
(Shane McMahon as special guest referee)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: This is the best thing Smackdown has produced in a long, long time, but WWE seems to think it’s getting stale. I could just listen to them argue then watch them fight every week, but adding Shane as the special ref indicates creative’s desire to add something new to the feud. Even worse, the new stipulation seems to indicate we’re heading toward Owens vs. Shane. I don’t think they can take that feud all the way to WrestleMania, but the two will have a match down the line. It will be interesting, but seems like a waste of Owens, who deserves better. Styles wins and moves on to new things himself.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Unfortunately, Styles and Owens have had lackluster matches so far together, but the anticipation of this match has only grown over the last two weeks, with both working the mic to further a feud that has the potential to be great. Two weeks ago, Owens was great in bringing back old footage of Shane McMahon screwing over previous wrestlers while playing the role of the official. They’ve done well the last two Smackdowns of teasing who Shane will turn on in the match, although now Styles and Owens are even in angering the boss, as both men have knocked out McMahon in consecutive weeks. The US title has gone back and forth a ton lately, and even though I believe Owens is better with a title, I don’t think that’s the way the WWE will go here. Styles is going to find a way to win, likely after Owens and McMahon get into a confrontation. That will set up an Owens vs. McMahon match at the next SDLive PPV, which while it would be a waste of Owens’ talent, as Straub says, it would be a match everyone will love. Where Styles goes from here, I don’t know, but Rusev might be a possible next challenger. The fact Styles and Owens don’t really have legitimate opponents waiting shows the lack of depth on the Smackdown roster. It’s pretty darn bare, and top of the line talents suffer.
John Cena vs. Baron Corbin
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: This is the most important night of Corbin’s career, and is a huge indicator for what WWE is going to do going forward. If you’re like me and Corbin does nothing for you, you’re hoping him losing the briefcase and getting beaten by Cena in the same week will end his push. If you’re a Corbin fan or just like new guys, you might think he can get a huge win and get back in the title picture. I think the former is what will happen. Corbin had his chance, no one cared, and it’s time to move on. On a side note, Cena is growing his hair out, and appears to have a bald spot now on the back of his head. He’s not young anymore, and now he looks it. Or maybe he just wants extra padding on his head in case he ever wrestles Nakamura again.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: If I waited another month or two to dissect Baron Corbin’s failed cash-in Tuesday during Smackdown, I might have a different opinion, but right now, I can’t think of a bigger losing moment in as far back as I can remember. Considering, nowadays anyway, the Money in the Bank winner is guaranteed a world title run, the fact Corbin couldn’t accomplish that, after holding it for a short time, and getting pinned by Jinder Mahal of all people, it doesn’t get any worse. Obviously, the WWE doesn’t believe Corbin is ready to become champion. Everyone can see the same thing. But it’s still incredulous the WWE didn’t let it play out for the better part of the year, having multiple cash-in fake-outs along the way. Even though the crowd hates Corbin, when he cashed in, the pop was tremendous. That moment is gone now, and it happened in a nondescript way as well. Strange to say the least. Maybe there’s more to it than we know right now, with Corbin being punished for some reason, but the WWE wasted a big moment, both at the Money in the Bank PPV and into the future. As for this match, Corbin and the announcers will blame Cena for costing Corbin the match against Mahal, but the reality is, Cena had nothing to do with it. Corbin simply lost. But we can all be happy my worst case scenario didn’t come true, and that was Corbin cashing in last Tuesday, winning the title, and then Cena beating him for the title at SummerSlam. That’s exactly what I was thinking would happen when Corbin cashed-in, and probably the possibility Straub was salivating over as his hero, Cena, could be champion again. Luckily, this remains just a grudge match nobody cares about. I doubt Cena will job to Corbin, especially now, so the guy who never loses won’t here.
WWE Champion Jinder Mahal vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: WWE decided not to go with what seemed to be the most obvious angle in a long time by keeping Mahal away from Cena this month. Instead, they may have found the only title change which would have drawn a bigger reaction. Nakamura going back to his roots a bit, wrestling in a building which loves NXT, and taking the belt would blow the roof off of the Barclays Center. I’m staying with my prediction of Nakamura vs. Styles at WrestleMania, but Nakamura vs. Cena at the Royal Rumble would sell a ton of WWE Network subscriptions. They tested the match a few weeks ago and, despite Cena nearly having his career ended, it looked like a big match which could be done for real on an important show. Mahal almost seemed like a face after Corbin’s terrible cash-in try, but I will continue to predict his character’s demise. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’m going with the Artist. The only way I can see Mahal winning is if they’re still planning Mahal-Cena down the road.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: I really have no idea who will walk out as WWE champion after this match. On one side, there is Mahal, who is being pushed to the moon because of his connection to India, something that is still in its early stages. While Mahal is far from great in the ring, he has made some big improvements, and his work on the mic has only gotten better. Plus, as I’ve written before, Mahal does look the part of world champion. If you were to watch wrestling for the first time this Sunday, Mahal would jump out as a believable champion. On the other side, there is Nakamura, who surprisingly pinned John Cena clean to earn this opportunity against Mahal. Nakamura is a great talent, has great charisma, and a great entrance, even if Strab is blind to it, that should be even more amazing in Brooklyn. Nakamura is ready to be champion, there’s no doubt about that, but the bigger question is if the WWE is ready to pull the plug on Mahal yet. While the two could feud for a couple months over the title, with Mahal as the chaser instead of champion, his time in the main event spotlight would be over relatively quick. Then what becomes of Mahal? Does he go back to jobber status? Does the WWE keep him in the upper-mid card, where can keep winning and maybe get the US title eventually, which would probably be a better spot for him anyway? Then there’s the fact if Nakamura loses this match, where does he go? Maybe he drops into a feud with AJ Styles for the US title, a feud everyone wants to see, but for the WWE title instead. Maybe he falls even further and the WWE wastes his talents. It could happen. That’s why I have no idea who is going to win this match, which can be a good thing for pure enjoyment. But I have my pick. The crowd is going to be wild in favor of Nakamura, and unless Mahal can bring out another Indian legend, the King of Strong Style is going to walk out of Brooklyn as world champion.