When you seemingly have everything that's going to happen in a show laid out for you before it starts, it loses something, no matter how well-executed it is. The element of surprise, even a minor one, keeps a certain tension and excitement that's vitally important to storytelling.
So when promotion for the 900th episode of SmackDown revealed a rematch for the Intercontinental championship, a new edition of "The Cutting Edge" and the return of The Undertaker, it seemed as if things were going to be fairly straightforward (if still somewhat exciting, due to Taker's long-awaited return).
Tuesday's historic edition of SmackDown Live was anything but straightforward. Dolph Ziggler and The Miz told a new story while occupying the first 25 percent of the show with their Intercontinental championship match, with Miz earning a shocking win to regain the title.
Most shocking of all, however, was The Undertaker's appearance in the last five minutes of the show, in which he addressed the SmackDown Survivor Series team, had a face off with Shane McMahon and essentially announced his return to the roster outside of just a yearly Wrestlemania program (although what that actually means is still anyone's guess).
For a guy who was already well into his WWE career when SmackDown premiered more than 17 years ago, it's incredible to imagine The Undertaker coming back and appearing on a regular basis again while in his third decade with the company. We are inevitably coming closer to him retiring, whether it's Wrestlemania next year or another big send-off down the line, but getting to appreciate that chilling entrance and unbelievable crowd energy as many times as The Undertaker will make an appearance is a genuine thrill and immediate dose of nostalgia.
Nearly every moment of the evening was focused upon the Survivor Series pay-per-view, which takes place this Sunday in Toronto, including The Undertaker's message. Without further ado, let's dig into an action-packed two hours of SmackDown Live.
The Miz earns a shocking sixth Intercontinental championship reign
Viewers couldn't have gotten a better introduction to SmackDown's 900th episode. After a quick retrospective of some of the most memorable moments in the show's history, the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, crowd was immediately thrust into a big-fight atmosphere for what seemed like it might be the last showdown between Ziggler and The Miz for some time.
Right away this match felt different and special. There were several sequences where each wrestler countered the other's moves, back-and-forth, showcasing the familiarity between them.
The storytelling was just as good, as The Miz worked on the leg to try to take away Ziggler's super kick, which he used to beat The Miz at No Mercy. Ziggler, meanwhile, did everything to counteract The Miz's attempts at cheating -- starting with feet on the second rope during a pinfall attempt and carrying through to the very end of the match. This match had a frenetic feel while feeling simultaneously well-paced, and quickly got into two-and three-commercial break territory. Despite more than two months of going at it back and forth, the match provided the feeling like you didn't want this rivalry to end.
When you have so many matches in a single series, like these two have had (to say nothing of the dozens of matches earlier in their careers), it's easy to get a bit repetitive with just a few slight changes each time out. But this rivalry has consistently built upon the story told in the previous match, with Tuesday's meeting offering the feel of desperation as The Miz entered one last go-around for the title before both men moved on.
The Miz brought back his use of Daniel Bryan's kicks to the chest and then used Bryan's Busaiku knee finisher, followed immediately by a Skull-Crushing Finale to nearly record a pinfall. Ziggler quickly turned the tables with a Zig Zag to get a two-count of his own, but then the shenanigans began.
The Spirit Squad ran out to provide a distraction, helped The Miz sweep a leg and lock Ziggler in a long figure-four attempt, with Ziggler getting to the ropes. The Miz pulled him to the middle of the ring, attempted another figure-four before Ziggler rolled him up. Cue the interference from Maryse who, unlike previous matches where she sprayed Ziggler in the eyes with perfume, simply pushed both men over so that The Miz could control the roll-up and record a quick (and cheap) three-count to win back the title.
While nearly everything these two have done together has been great, they will need to push their limits even further to keep this rivalry feeling fresh should WWE plan to continue it. There are some definitive drawbacks here -- Ziggler's title reign, which he put his career on the line for, ended at 37 days without a single successful title defense on television. Meanwhile, as much as Sunday's title match at Survivor Series between The Miz and Sami Zayn has the potential to be strong, Ziggler-Zayn likely would have been more exciting.
The Miz's conflict with Bryan also heated up with another fiery "Talking Smack" confrontation, during which The Miz lambasted his general manager for wanting to trade him for Zayn or Cesaro.
Wherever the Intercontinental title feud goes from here, Tuesday's match certainly set the tone for the rest of the night.
The Undertaker invades "The Cutting Edge"
After a brief introduction from Edge, the time frame from when Team SmackDown entered the ring to the time The Undertaker uttered a "rest in peace" was fewer than 13 minutes, but it packed in everything that was needed to tie a bow around a proper build to the men's traditional five-on-five Survivor Series match.
It started with Edge shunning AJ Styles and shaking James Ellsworth's hand, with Styles denying a five-second pose (which ultimately did happen on "Talking Smack"). There was a confrontation between Edge and Randy Orton, the former Rated RKO teammates, before Styles and Dean Ambrose got into it just long enough for the iconic "gong" to hit and the lights to go out.
The Undertaker had a few messages to deliver; firstly, he recognized McMahon as SmackDown's fearless leader (complete with a tip of his hat). He then proclaimed that WrestleMania "will no longer define who I am. I'm back -- taking souls and digging holes." He went on to acknowledge that Survivor Series is where his character was born and that SmackDown "has always been my home."
Finally, he laid down the law by issuing a challenge.
"If you fail, you have reason to fear The Deadman," The Undertaker said. "And Team Raw better rest ... in ... peace."
Hits and misses
Alexa Bliss was finally guaranteed a rematch for the SmackDown women's championship after an exasperated Bryan finally acquiesced upon "seeing the clip for the fifth time." Natalya, who was channeling her inner Bill Alfonso all night with the whistle, carried on her gimmick of ripping off songs to provide inspiration to her team by quoting the all-time classic "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba (look it up kids) and Bliss, wide-eyed, called her out for it.
The SmackDown women's division received the same kind of treatment as the men did the night before on Raw, as first Charlotte, and then the rest of the Raw women's team, emerged from the audience to bring a Nikki Bella-Carmella match to a premature end. Both squads showed unity (almost too much so, as Bayley joining in on a 5-on-1 attack on Bella felt ... weird), with the SmackDown women running out to help their captain and stand tall together (which they continued to do during a lengthy segment together on "Talking Smack").
For the record, everything about this short match between Bella and Carmella made me cringe. Maybe that's a sign of good storytelling and execution, but I couldn't help but think there might have been one or two too many chances taken, including a sickening neckbreaker from the apron to the floor on Bella and her surgically repaired neck.
Using NXT talents as "enhancement talent" on SmackDown makes sense, and Oney Lorcan afforded himself very well in a short match against Kalisto. Lorcan got off to an aggressive start as he blindsided Kalisto with some brutal uppercuts in opposite corners. He also made up for a Kalisto botch on the middle rope like the in-ring veteran he is, covering for the mistake and carrying the match through to Kalisto hitting the Salida Del Sol for the victory.
We got a King Booker backstage appearance, during which he hit all of the memorable lines one would expect. His interaction with the SmackDown tag team Survivor Series team was what a nostalgia bit should be -- letting the young guys get most of the shine, while Booker got to brush back the "fashion police" Breezango.
Tuesday's tag team match, a slightly smaller version of the 20-man Survivor Series match, pitted four of the five teams (excluding the champions) that will represent SmackDown on Sunday against the four teams that didn't make the cut. It was a nice filler match, but aside from a few fun spots it mostly seemed as if they were saving their best for the match that'll actually matter.