Smackdown proves itself again with Ellsworth's victory over Styles

James Ellsworth paid the price for Dean Ambrose's ringside antics, but he walked away from SmackDown Live with his second consecutive victory over AJ Styles. WWE

The result of the WWE world championship match on Tuesday's episode of SmackDown Live was best summed up by Dean Ambrose in the closing moments of the broadcast.

"He's the man who has more victories over AJ Styles than John Cena: James Ellsworth!"

That's right -- for the second straight week Ellsworth defeated Styles, and he earned this win in a WWE world championship match in Tuesday's main event. Sure, he won by disqualification because Styles wouldn't stop hitting him, which means that because he didn't pin Styles, he didn't walk away with the most unlikely world championship victory in WWE history. But Ellsworth's victory proved once again why SmackDown has been so enjoyable since the brand split.

It's the land of opportunity, and anything can happen.

Tuesday's show opened with a strong video package that cut last week's SmackDown match down to its bare bones. Styles, the overconfident champion, was made to look every bit the fool, while Ellsworth's best moments were cut together (well, some of his only good moments, but still) to give this glorified stunt match a big-fight feel.

Imagine what the last three months of Ellsworth's life have been like. He made a seemingly one-time appearance on Raw and got destroyed by Braun Strowman, but his brief time on the microphone made Ellsworth go somewhat viral. He appeared on Chris Jericho's podcast, made a handful of independent appearances, then showed up out of the blue to assume the role of Styles' tag-team partner when no one would team with him.

The Miz attacked Ellsworth and took his place in that match, but a few weeks later Styles brought him back as a joke of an opponent -- and brought upon himself the headache that's caused Ambrose to be embarrass him in a high-profile way for two straight weeks. Even with Cena's absence since No Mercy, Styles and Ambrose haven't skipped a beat, and Ellsworth's presence has been the perfect way to carry SmackDown's world title feud along during the long layoff between pay-per-views.

The support for Ellsworth has been palpable, from the crowd and even the WWE superstars themselves. Ambrose took credit for getting Ellsworth a shirt on WWE Shop (which is real, by the way), and that ongoing interaction has helped push Ambrose back toward being a good guy after toeing the line a bit in his interactions with Cena. During his entrance, and at several different points throughout the match, the crowd erupted into Ellsworth chants in the style of "Goldberg," along with dueling "Let's go Ellsworth" and "AJ Styles" chants.

While Ambrose was denied the chance to be guest referee again because of the world title being involved, he was given a list of other options by general manager Daniel Bryan -- volunteering to take over timekeeping, ring announcing and several other duties simultaneously.

Ambrose had the time of his life making Styles' life miserable throughout the match, and it started from the introduction, continued through his ringing of the opening bell about 35 times and throughout the last 20 minutes of the show. He did a promo for the Ellsworth's t-shirt on WWE Shop mid-match, with accompanying video, announced a Blue Toyota had its lights on and hawked collectible WWE programs.

As much as Ambrose crushed the comedy, Styles deserves an enormous amount of credit for making a match that should have been a 30 second Strowman-esque destruction and telling a 20-minute story in the ring. In between the multiple beatdowns there were some fun spots, including Ellsworth slipping out of a rear chinlock due to his perceived lack of a chin.

As it's been clear, though, this was all about Ambrose and Styles -- and nowhere was that more clear than when Styles kept tossing Ellsworth out and Ambrose tossed him back, which they repeated at least a dozen times in rapid succession.

There had to be one moment where the inevitable outcome was momentarily doubted, and the crowd exploded as Ellsworth pulled Styles off the top rope, causing him to hit his face on the top turnbuckle, and followed it up with a superkick for a two-count that lasted just long enough to make you wonder.

Fed up with Ambrose's antics, Styles proceeded to beat Ellsworth down with a continuous series of right hands in the corner until the referee had no choice but to disqualify him. Ambrose slid in and laid Styles out with a Dirty Deeds and raised Ellsworth's hand in victory, with Ellsworth crumpling into a heap on the mat as soon as he let go.

For his part, Styles was every bit the angry and embarrassed champion on "Talking Smack," demanding a match with Ambrose next week. They've built up a tremendous amount of tension going into that match. There's also been a significant amount of blowback towards the GM, and Styles spoke clearly to that point in an angry rant on "Talking Smack."

"What kind of ship are you running here?" asked Styles. He pointed down to the WWE world championship, which sat on the table in front of them. "This is serious business. I had to hurt this man," Styles continued, pointing at Bryan's shirt. "I had to hurt this man; I had to put him through a lot of pain, and that's on you."

This WWE world title feud is still the most compelling rivalry in the WWE today and, on top of it all, there's a real sense of friction building between a babyface general manager and many of the heels on the roster -- a well that's filled to the brim with future stories that should help carry SmackDown through the end of the year and beyond.

After the video package and a locker room segment with Ellsworth and Ambrose, the true opening segment of SmackDown once again centered on Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton's ongoing rivalry. It felt a little cheesy and familiar as Orton said, "The evil inside of Bray Wyatt runs deeper than I ever thought possible. He's torched every last shred of sanity I had left, but in a way I think he's set me free. I am wrath, I am vengeance, and I am coming for you."

The lights went out, and this feud got a much-needed shot in the arm as the stakes were raised. An image of a robed and black sheep mask-wearing figure panned to show eight such figures standing over an open casket, with the camera slowly moving down to Wyatt, eyes closed and lying comfortably inside. He insisted he was the one having fun and introduced Luke Harper, who was set to face Orton one-on-one.

After a few minutes of action, Wyatt's music and lighting hit again as the eight hooded figures carried him, still inside the casket and holding his patented lantern, down the ramp. Coming back from commercial break, Wyatt was hunched over a prone Orton and the casket was pushed up against the ring apron.

Harper got a few chances to show just how technically proficient he is in the ring for a big man and, rather than allowing Harper to take a big loss so soon after his return, Wyatt leaped into the ring to attack Orton to bring the match to a premature end at the first sign of trouble. As Wyatt went to put Orton into the casket, he opened the lid and found Kane lying in wait for him there. Just as it looked like Orton had the upper hand, Wyatt and Harper made a magical exit and left Orton and Kane standing there mystified. While the continued involvement of Kane in this scenario is a bit strange, as we don't know the scope of the supernatural powers allegedly in play, but the introduction of the casket opens up a number of possibilities going forward.

Hits and misses

  • Alexa Bliss broke out a Freddy Krueger-inspired outfit that she debuted during her time in NXT, just a couple weeks shy of Halloween. It's cool to see some of the women breaking out different versions of in-ring gear, as it makes each match feel a little different and special. Naomi seems to have a slightly (and occasionally radically) different look every week -- and on Raw, Charlotte has begun a collection of ring robes that could someday challenge her father's incredible collection. The more ways in which the women can find even footing with the male superstars, the clearer the message of giving women a chance rings true.

  • Naomi dominated pre-commercial, including a springboard cross-body and a number of key strikes like her rapid back-and-forth kicks, but Bliss grabbed control during the break with a vicious forearm. Naomi hit a split-legged moonsault, but a return to the top rope that was derailed by Bliss was followed quickly by "Twisted Bliss" and a victory for the No. 1 contender to the SmackDown women's championship.

    We should expect more of this kind of showing from Bliss in the lead-up to her title match in Glasgow in three weeks' time.

  • Not sure if they are going to the well too much with the perpetually delayed debut of Curt Hawkins (and by the way -- where's Eva Marie?) but we got as close as we've gotten to his actual match. What happens when we actually get there? Who can say?

  • It took a long, long time to acknowledge it on SmackDown or Raw (though it's been clear on "Total Divas" and now "Total Bellas" for some time), but using Nikki Bella's relationship with Cena for a story is a great idea, at least in theory. Giving Carmella a kernel of truth to build upon, as she "refuses to walk around on eggshells like everyone else" is just close enough to the truth to give her a real purpose in her rivalry with Nikki. Nikki's response rang true too, as she lambasted Carmella, saying, "Shame on you, as a woman to take away from my accomplishments because of a man."

    That the segment didn't descend into physicality like many such segments tend to made it feel more impactful, too. Once these two finally have that one-on-one match, it's going to feel like it matters.

  • For the first time in almost two months, The Miz and Dolph Ziggler were relegated to an in-ring showdown midway through the show. It was a solid enough match in the 9 p.m. ET slot, and they still told a great story in the ring on opposite sides of a six-man tag as Ziggler teamed with tag team champions Heath Slater and Rhyno and Miz brought back The Spirit Squad for another week.

    Ziggler took the bulk of the damage in the ring throughout the match, and the crowd got what it chanted for over the entirety of the match -- a tag to Slater -- and it looked like the champions team would persevere again. We got a twist on the story, though, as Miz got in a cheap shot and Kenny rolled up Slater for the victory -- a pinfall for the Spirit Squad over the tag-team champions. As JBL pointed out, Kenny is still in tremendous shape, and despite his first WWE run coming to an end almost eight years ago, he's still only 30 years old. Could there be another lengthy tenure in his future?

  • We got more personality in five minutes of "Talking Smack" than we got in two years' worth of out-of-the-ring segments from Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley. The Hype Bros should be involved in the Survivor Series match, and Ryder's ability to still connect with a crowd should serve them well in the infancy of SmackDown's tag team division.

  • "Talking Smack" also provided a platform for Baron Corbin, who absolutely destroyed Jack Swagger in a two-minute match, to portray just how big of a jerk his character is. Pointing out that he was able to take a shortcut to WWE instead of spending 10 years on the independent scene was a nice touch -- and it was also a direct affront to Bryan, who continues to be the biggest source of ire of late.