When the WWE set out to establish two distinctly different shows with the brand separation draft and the superstar shakeup, few might have imagined how successful they would be. While Monday Night Raw became the traditional kind of show that houses big stars and mostly straightforward stories, SmackDown Live has become the fun, experimental brand that relishes its opportunity to do no wrong.
They embraced AJ Styles as their signature star, giving him a lengthy WWE title reign in his first year, and yet they haven't shied away from giving other stars like Dolph Ziggler, who beat Styles in Tuesday's main event, the opportunity to capitalize on that value. SmackDown is also a show that took acts who had previously wallowed in the shadows, like Jinder Mahal and Breezango, and thrust them into the spotlight.
While Breezango seems poised to take a back seat to the newly returned New Day in the pursuit of the SmackDown tag team titles, they hit a nerve with their incredibly over-the-top "Fashion Files" segment and they've never been more popular. For Mahal, an entourage, an attitude change and considerable change to his physique have him, shockingly, positioned atop SmackDown as the WWE champion.
The best part is, if you're not particularly fond of any one of these developments, there's always something else fun going on. Whether it was Tuesday's Styles-Ziggler main event or Kevin Owens and Baron Corbin vs. Sami Zayn and Shinsuke Nakamura main event, spotlighting the participants in the upcoming men's Money in the Bank match, the quality of the wrestling is also undeniable on a weekly basis.
One of the biggest risks that SmackDown has taken, and one of the biggest payoffs, has been to embrace its entire women's division rather than just spotlighting a single rivalry. The conflict between the "Welcoming Committee" and Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Naomi has brought a chaotic energy to the women's division and SmackDown as a whole. Raw got to enjoy a lot of firsts for women's wrestling, like the first women's Hell in a Cell match and a pay-per-view main event during the epic Flair-Sasha Banks rivalry, but SmackDown took a major step forward of its own with Tuesday's announcement of the first women's Money in the Bank match.
As a scheduled five-way elimination match seemed ready to get underway, Lynch, Flair, Carmella, Natalya and Tamina had a frenetic pull-apart that saw all five women flying around the ringside area attacking all of their fellow competitors. As officials failed to properly control the situation, Shane McMahon was hit by an on-screen stroke of genius in which he gave all five women a chance to channel that energy into something truly historic.
At times, it's been hard to figure out why many of the chances that SmackDown takes seem to pay off, while Raw's attempts to go out on a limb like Monday's disastrous "This is Your Life" segment tend to fall flat. Perhaps it's a writing team that's more in tune with the superstars on their brand, or simply on a hot streak filled with confidence from all of their successes. Maybe it's a looser vibe that allows the performers to go out, take chances and not worry about making mistakes.
It took a little while for things to settle down post-superstar shakeup, but as SmackDown has found its stride again, an unpredictable nature and high energy have made it the can't-miss show among all weekly WWE programming. What'll they think of next?
Hits and misses
-- The New Day is back! With Kofi Kingston finally back on his feet, one of the biggest acquisitions SmackDown made in the superstar shakeup is finally in play. They wasted little time in engaging The Usos and getting a shot for the SmackDown tag team titles at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view. The overall state of the tag team division has been the one deficient area for SmackDown among all its successes, so let's hope The New Day is the rising tide that lifts everyone else up with them (and where's American Alpha?).
-- Tyler Breeze's willingness to do pretty much anything to get a joke or a moment over is truly stunning. The latest edition of the Fashion Files saw Breeze in a deep-V dress and wig (which he also wore out to the ring for Breezango's match against The Colons), and a late-match change into "Carl the Janitor" get-up earned his team the victory. The Fashion Files are absurd in every way, but it works because of how dedicated Breeze and Fandango are to the gimmick. Who else could make telepathy work?
-- The impromptu tag team match that opened the action on SmackDown was another fun showcase. While a lot of the action was impressive, Nakamura hitting his patented Kinshasa knee strike on Owens for the second straight week was far and away the most interesting. Two straight pinfall victories over the United States champ earned Nakamura a non-title shot at Owens next week, offering another fresh match-up that fans should love.
-- We didn't get much from Mahal or Randy Orton this week, though Orton did make his first public comments since losing the WWE title. Orton chose to point towards his grandfather in limiting his words and promising swift action. Mahal responded by video message, and that was that.
Quote of the week
"Buddy, I've been beating Sami Zayn up for 15 years, OK? You've got nothing to brag about." -- Kevin Owens.
Owens dropped a lot of gold during "Kevin Owens' Highlight Reel" to open up SmackDown, including a reference to "The Day the Music Died", but it was his rebuke of Corbin trying to take his spotlight with a flashback to last week's beatdown of Zayn that sent him over the edge. Was that a hint of jealousy? Some kind of "No one beats up Sami like I beat up Sami" kind of situation? We don't know how long Chris Jericho will be gone, and it could be for a while, but keeping Owens linked to Jericho by tying him to this talk show segment is good long-term vision.
Move of the week
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) May 31, 2017
Charlotte Flair's moonsault is picture-perfect, every time.