In many ways, Tuesday night's episode of SmackDown Live was as much about shilling for a few key WWE ventures as it was a show during a key window leading up to SummerSlam.
There were two key points to be made. First, each and every superstar was forced to oh-so-casually drop in a line about how excited they were for the all-women's pay-per-view "Evolution" into every single conversation and promo, just as they did on Raw. But the primary drive of the night centered around "Miz & Mrs.," which was set to debut on the USA Network immediately following SmackDown.
Miz and Maryse were featured throughout the night posing for photos with what appeared to be their baby and then, to end the show, lathered on the self-congratulations for everything they'd accomplished.
In the end, they managed to tie it all back to SummerSlam and last week's outburst and attack by Daniel Bryan, though. As Miz and Maryse laid on the smarm extra thick, Bryan stormed the ring, only for The Miz to spring his trap. After taking what appeared to be his daughter, Monroe Sky, from the harness around his chest, Miz tossed what turned out to be a fake baby at Bryan. That distraction was enough that The Miz was able to convert a Skull-Crushing Finale on Bryan to land the first major blow, and with that, SmackDown faded to black and right into "Miz & Mrs."
- WWE (@WWE) July 25, 2018
The chain of events appears to be the next step in a Miz-Bryan showdown, a feud with more than a hint of real-life tension dating back almost a decade. Odds are we'll hear an official announcement on this SummerSlam matchup in the next week or two.
Though Miz stole a lot of the spotlight on this particular evening, we also found out the fate of the WWE championship match for SummerSlam, and it's going to be an extravaganza to say the least. It was an overbooked sequence, to be sure, but the net result is a match and a rivalry few could've ever imagined happening in the WWE more than a decade ago -- Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles.
Before we got confirmation of this rivalry 15 years in the making getting its WWE chapter, we bid farewell to James Ellsworth for the second time. As Paige attempted to announce who Styles' opponent would be for SummerSlam, Ellsworth came out thumping his chest as a worthy challenger, dating all the way back to his string of victories over Styles a couple of years ago.
Paige would have none of his antics; as the two exchanged insults, she finally had enough and fired Ellsworth. Security came out and lifted Ellsworth into the air, carried him backstage and set him down right in front of the exit door. Paige kicked him outside and closed the door on this brief chapter of an Ellsworth return, but in the midst of that chaos and theatrics, Joe blindsided Styles and ultimately locked him in the Coquina Clutch.
- WWE (@WWE) July 25, 2018
After putting the champ to sleep, Joe promptly signed the contract sitting on the table, then threw it on Styles and made his exit.
Game on. To date, we've only got the slightest of teases in the WWE, but Styles and Samoa Joe have a history that dates back to the earliest stages of their respective careers. They made names for themselves against one another, in both TNA and Ring of Honor. They have mixed it up on a handful of WWE Live events over the last few months, but the last time they battled one-on-one for the world to see was over five years ago.
Joe's a stellar in-ring performer, great on the mic and projects an incredible intensity. As much as Shinsuke Nakamura probably deserved a stint with the WWE championship, this rivalry over the title is a strong move in its own right. It's also a very different kind of match, as Joe is a far more in-your-face performer whose instincts won't be to look for an underhanded way to come out on top.
At this point, it's impossible to say one way or the other who is more likely to win the match, but you can bet this bout could steal the SummerSlam show. It's also a safe bet to be a far more dynamic performance with a much more positive crowd reaction than we're likely to see in the other heavyweight title fight between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar.
At this point, Styles has strung together a 260-day reign as WWE champion. While that is more than 200 days fewer than Lesnar's run as Universal champion on Raw, you have to go back to 2011-2012 to find the last time someone (CM Punk) held the WWE championship for a longer. The other major difference, obviously, is the number of times he's defended that title and the long string of impressive matches he's put together as the anchor of SmackDown Live.
As Joe left the ring Tuesday, he looked back at a fallen Styles and yelled, "Tick-tock" at the champ. Is Styles' time on top of the division finally set to come to an end? He's held off a lot of high-end foes in his latest run, but Joe has the look and the feel of a guy who could believably carry the strap -- and that's everything you could ever want from a No. 1 contender.
Hits & misses
- Well done, Randy Orton. The rebranded, clean-cut villainous side of Orton was out in full force as he cut a scathing promo laying fans, Jeff Hardy and a whole mess of other targets bare. A week after a heinous attack on Hardy (one I'm unlikely to go back and watch again), Orton said his behavior was a result of the disrespect from the fans. And why, he asked? He doesn't "paint my face, flail my arms or change the color of my merch." He doesn't "dive off cages and turnbuckles" or steal hand signs. The transition from "Legend Killer" to legend in his own right has taken some bumps along the way, but this is exactly the way to maximize on what Orton can do at this stage of his career.
- WWE (@WWE) July 25, 2018
- Oh, Rusev. It's come to this. A week after a stellar bout against Styles at Extreme Rules, his friendship with sidekick Aiden English has fallen apart. After English interfered for the second time in as many key matches, by getting in between Lana and Zelina Vega, Rusev's distraction caused him to eat a hammerlock DDT and a loss against Andrade 'Cien' Almas. Is this the best the WWE can do for the phenom fans want to love? Rusev-English has SummerSlam Kickoff Show written all over it, and it can only be a step backwards for Rusev in the long-term. What a shame.
- Carmella has her SummerSlam opponent lined up, thanks to her loss against Becky Lynch on Tuesday. It's been a long time coming for Lynch, who hasn't touched the SmackDown women's championship since becoming the inaugural title holder. Will it be her time to carry the division again coming out of SummerSlam? With Asuka on a downswing and Charlotte Flair still out of action, the timing couldn't be better.
- Speaking of Asuka, she had an underwhelming win against Billie Kay that lasted a little longer than a couple blinks of an eye. This is exactly the type of matches that don't do Asuka -- or the women's division -- justice. Asuka needs more than this. The problem is, she doesn't have a ton of options at the moment, unless a rematch with Flair happens to be in the pipeline.
- The New Day beat SAnitY in the first round of the tag-team tournament to determine the No. 1 contenders for The Bludgeon Brothers at SummerSlam. This was easily the best bout of the night, as Big E and Xavier Woods ended the action with a Midnight Hour. As long as the New Day have been around, they never fail to put on a great performance. The action was nonstop, and the ending impactful. They've had plenty of time holding WWE tag-team championships, and they deserve more.
- R-Truth made his first televised one-on-one match since last August on Raw (against Elias), albeit one that lasted exactly one minute before falling victim to Samoa Joe's Coquina Clutch. Could Truth follow Elias' lead up the iTunes album charts.