If it was not clear prior to Tuesday night, we are entering a period of the WWE calendar where less emphasis is placed on title feuds and more time is directed to random groups preparing for the company’s annual elimination match pay-per-view Survivor Series. Though the event is not for another month, WWE spent the week setting the stage for the big show, especially on SmackDown Live.
The biggest storyline coming out of Hell in a Cell — Sami Zayn’s change of character — was featured in the opening and closing segments of Tuesday night’s show. Sandwiched between was a challenge that will certainly turn into a champion vs. champion match at the November PPV event.
Check out what went down Tuesday night on SmackDown Live below.
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Sami Zayn completes his heel turn
SmackDown opened with general manager Daniel Bryan hitting the ring — to a tremendous ovation in his home state of Washington — and calling out Sami Zayn to explain himself. Zayn said he was attempting to take back control of his career and then took a shot at Bryan by explaining how he was still an active wrestler with a shot to be great, whereas Bryan’s time was over and aided greatly by the fans, which never had Zayn’s back. “I don’t care anymore, and it feels amazing,” said Zayn of the fans before telling Bryan that if he had worked smarter and not as hard he may not have had to medically retire and now be a housewife. Kevin Owens came out and said Bryan was worse than a housewife as he’s now a hypocrite and part of the WWE authority. “There’s only one word for a person like that,” added Zayn, “‘sellout.'” That led to Bryan leaving the ring and promising the best friends he was going to find someone to punch them in the mouth.
Bryan set Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura to face Owens and Zayn in a main event that lasted nearly 30 minutes between entrances, commercials and the match itself. With the referee distracted by Owens, Zayn hit a blatant low blow on Orton, dropped him with the Helluva Kick and earned a 1-2-3 victory in the middle of the ring. Backstage, Zayn and Owens taunted Bryan and asked what he had in store for them next week. Bryan said he would not be making that decision; instead, commissioner Shane McMahon would be back to pick their opponents. Before going off the air, WWE showed Orton and Nakamura stewing while watching the replay with Zayn and Owens returning to the stage to taunt them. “We are SmackDown Live … and there’s nothing anybody can do about it,” Owens said. “My name is Kevin Owens, this is Sami Zayn, and he is my best friend. Hug me! Hold me tight!”
Credit Orton for doing the job here. Quickly in regards to the match, it’s clear WWE is setting up these four on opposite Survivor Series teams. Onto the angle, Zayn did a much better job this week coming off as disgruntled and a legitimate heel alongside Owens. The promo to start the show got him 75 percent of the way there, and the finish to the match along with the backstage promo turned it to 100. This is a welcome change of direction for the Zayn character, and he works great with Owens — as is to be expected considering their long-lasting friendship. WWE is going all-in on Survivor Series storylines, so it will be interesting to see how they move forward with both Owens and Zayn coming out of that show in four weeks.
Jinder Mahal makes a major challenge
WWE is treating its namesake championship as a secondary title, so this gets the second spot in our recap. Fresh off his five-star tour of India, Mahal said he has beaten anybody worth beating on SmackDown (two people, Randy Orton and Shinsuke Nakamura). Fans started a long-overdue “you can’t wrestle” chant, and Mahal said he had no choice but to beat the most dominant force in WWE. He then officially challenged Brock Lesnar to a champion vs. champion match at Survivor Series. “I want all you people to kiss my feet when I prove that ‘The Beast’ can be slayed. I want all of you to bow down to the ‘Modern Day Maharaja,'” he said. “I am the greatest WWE champion of all time.”
That brought out AJ Styles, who said he did not care about Mahal challenging Lesnar but rather claiming there was no worthy competition on SmackDown, a phrase Mahal repeated before calling Styles a loser. Styles then challenged Mahal for the WWE title, which Mahal called a joke. Styles responded by taking down Mahal and the Singh Brothers and clearing the ring. After the commercial break, Mahal said Sunil Singh would challenge Styles in his honor next week, a match Bryan agreed to. Lesnar will respond to Mahal this Monday on Raw.
Pitting Mahal against Lesnar at Survivor Series — assuming Lesnar accepts, which he will — is an interesting development. On one hand, it’s a good way to get the champions on the show while leaving the main eventers for the two brands to fight in their own elimination matches. On the other, it will be another pay-per-view — one of WWE’s four majors — without a meaningful world title match or change. With so much time until the event, injecting Styles now makes sense as he should be the one to eventually take the strap off Mahal. But how they will go through four weeks of TV without it culminating in a title match between the two is something to ponder, especially because the next SmackDown PPV is not until another month after that.
What else happened on SmackDown?
- Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch & Naomi def. Natalya, Tamina Snuka & Lana via submission: Lana got extended time in the ring and looked awful. Flair tapped her out with the Figure Eight.
- Sin Cara def. Baron Corbin via countout: Prior to the match, Corbin teased Sin Cara with a United States title shot but instead said the U.S. Open Challenge was officially closed. Sin Cara got one over on Corbin after a splash from the top rope to the outside surprised Corbin, who was unable to get back into the ring in time.
- Chad Gable & Shelton Benjamin interrupted promo by The Usos. Just as The Usos were putting over their incredible year, Gable & Benjamin promised there would be a title change soon after winning the No. 1 contendership last week. They then pretended to show The Usos respect and shake their hands, only to pull their palms away — pscyhe!
- Bludgeon Brothers vignette: Luke Harper and Erick Rowan were standing in the woods in their new gear and once again cut a short promo. They then slammed their Viking hammers into nothing and grunted. It was bad again.
- Tom Phillips is “on assignment.” Michael Cole filled in on commentary and repeated this phrase twice during the show. It appears Phillips will not be on for a couple weeks. Whether it’s an angle or not remains to be seen.
- Pulp Fashion — Fashion Files: Breezango and The Ascension star again in a series that is quickly getting to become trite. Less funny moments this week than any prior.
- Dolph Ziggler def. Bobby Roode via pinfall: Ziggler threw Roode into the turnbuckle and earned a roll-up victory by pulling Roode’s tights, just as Roode did at Hell in a Cell. Rubber match between these two is ahead, I’m sure.
- New Day taunted Aiden English backstage after English got upset for people not paying attention to his singing. Rusev broke up the New Day fun by claiming it was actually Rusev Day, so New Day celebrated by playing the trombone and dancing. “Rusev Day … is not a joke,” Rusev said, cutting off a singing English.