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WWE welcomed back its friends to the show that never ends Friday on SmackDown, the first live event in front of a full capacity crowd since the COVID-19 pandemic and more importantly, the go-home edition of the blue brand ahead of Sunday’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view.
The featured a blockbuster main event as Universal champion Roman Reigns teamed with Jimmy and Jey Uso to battle Edge, Rey and Dominik Mysterio in a six-man tag team match.
That contest headlined a broadcast that also featured the brand’s four entrants in the Money in the Bank ladder match and a defense of the women’s title by Bianca Belair.
What went down on the monumental and much-anticipated Fox broadcast?
Find out now with this recap of the July 16 show.
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Announced for Friday’s show are:
- Six-Man Tag Team Match: Edge and The Mysterios vs. Roman Reigns and The Usos
- Fatal 4-Way Match: Big E vs. Kevin Owens vs. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Seth Rollins
- SmackDown Women’s Championship Match: Bianca Belair vs. Carmella
Coverage begins at 8 p.m.
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Mr. McMahon kicked off the show, entering the arena and asking the audience “where the hell have you been?” before returning to the locker room.
Roman Reigns drew a thunderous mix of cheers and boos as he entered the ring, the Universal title in hand and flanked by both The Usos and Paul Heyman for a six-man tag team match against Rey and Dominik Mysterio and Edge.
The babyfaces controlled early until the Usos downed Dominik and Reigns tagged in. The Head of the Table powerbombed the rookie on the announce table as the heels established dominance entering the break. Coming out of the timeout, though, Edge tagged into the match and unloaded on everyone, including his Money in the Bank opponent.
As the action broke down, Edge speared Reigns on the floor. Back in the ring, a cheap shot from Jimmy allowed Jey to roll Rey up for the tainted pinfall victory. The Usos beatdown the Mysterios after the match until Edge made the save with a chair.
Reigns rocked the No. 1 contender with a Superman Punch and teased using the same broken piece of chair Edge had utilized against him. The Rated R Superstar seized the opening and delivered the spear, then trapped Reigns in the steel-assisted crossface to the delight of the fans.
Reigns and The Usos defeated Edge and The Mysterios
Never will I ever become spoiled by the live reaction of an audience to pro wrestling again. The roar from the audience for McMahon, then Reigns, culminating in a monstrous pop for Edge was invigorating and exactly what WWE needed after a stale and stagnant ThunderDome era.
The crowd ate this all up, cheering Edge, booing Reigns and adding exponentially to the in-ring action.
Did the match earn an ‘A’ grade? No, but the return of the audience, the energy of the performers and the execution of the spots and segment-closing angle elevated it to such.
Edge getting the best of Reigns on the show before Money in the Bank would suggest The Head of the Table will retain Sunday and that is the right call. He’s too valuable in his role and has absolutely, unequivocally been the best thing about the product over the last year.
It’s too soon to take the title off of him and give it to Edge, especially with the tease of Seth Rollins opposing him hanging overhead.
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After the latest backstage confrontation between Seth Rollins and Edge in which the former vowed to win Money in the Bank and cash it in on the man who made the match famous, Sami Zayn entered the arena and continued to tout his conspiracy theories about injustice and his exclusion from said ladder match.
Finn Balor’s music played and The Prince made his return to SmackDown, confronting his fellow former NXT champion to a big reaction.
Balor countered a sneak attack by Zayn, downed him and delivered the Coup de Grace before standing tall, the fans joining him in his signature pose, their arms outstretched like his.
Zayn is great. He has been great and will continue to be because it is readily apparent that he is invested in his character, no matter how ridiculous it is. Now that he has an actual audience to play off of, it is extremely likely that Zayn will only get better.
If he has the opportunity to share the ring with someone like Balor, whose path he has not crossed nearly as much as you would expect for two stars who enjoyed similar paths to WWE, it will only further enhance things.
As for Balor, one can hope his second run on the main roster is better than his first. He was undervalued, underutilized and misunderstood by management. After an extraordinary run as NXT champion this past year, he is primed for the run he should have had dating back to 2016. Hopefully, he is allowed to chase the success that eluded him before.
The only negative? The negative was too short.
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Shotzi and Nox sought to follow up their victory over women’s tag team champions Natalya and Tamina with a second victory, again in a non-title match, this time as Money in the Bank entrants Zelina Vega and Liv Morgan watched from the commentary position.
The champions were well on their way to victory late in the match when Morgan and Vega’s bickering turned into a brawl that distracted Natalya and allowed Nox to score the win off a small package rollup.
After the match, the infuriated Tamina and Natalya unloaded on Vega and Morgan, only for Liv to turn the tides and stand tall, pointing to the briefcase overhead in a potential sign of things to come Sunday night.
Shotzi and Nox defeated Tamina and Natalya in a non-title match
It is difficult to take much away from Shotzi and Nox’s latest win given the fact that the attention was paid not to them, but Morgan and Vega at ringside.
Yes, WWE attempted to put the final touches on the build to Sunday’s women’s ladder match but in the process, they robbed a young, new team the opportunity to bask in the spotlight in their first exposure in front of a live audience.
Morgan receiving the overwhelmingly positive reaction that she did is an indicator that she has the audience on her side, something that was an uncertainty over the last year. With her singles push beginning in front of no one and continuing before oversized TV screens, it is nice to see the immediate feedback of the audience confirming her popularity.
She is a clear favorite to win Sunday’s ladder match.
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In what has been a whirlwind of a year for her thus far, SmackDown women’s champion Bianca Belair looked to continue her winning ways as she defended against Carmella. The EST controlled early, only for Carmella to turn the tide in her favor heading into the break.
Belair fought back after the break, powering her opponent to the mat. Carmella answered with a hurricanrana from the top rope and a guillotine choke. She scored a near-fall and proceeded to pull at the champion’s ponytail, only for Belair to whip her with it in the midsection and deliver the KOD for the successful title defense.
Belair defeated Carmella to retain
This certainly exceeded expectations.
Belair has been great this year, absolutely seizing the opportunity and performing up to the level fans and superiors expect out of a champion. There was little question that she would thrive, especially with the energy created by fans.
She is a special performer, a charismatic athlete who has fans on her side from the moment she sets foot in the arena. She is, arguably, the best babyface performer in WWE and will be one of the faces of the company for a very long time.
The wild card was Carmella, who has never been confused with the best wrestler in the women’s division. Yet here she was, as she has countless times since her return, shining. She was better here as a challenger to the title she once held than she ever was as champion. So much so that she could easily warrant another run with the title if she continues to show flashes in these championship opportunities.
This was good. Way better than it probably had any right to be, especially since it was thrown together in the wake of Bayley’s injury. Kudos to both women for delivering big time.
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Baron Corbin made his way to the ring, a disheveled mess as the commentators recapped his recent downward spiral.
Corbin implored the audience to help him financially, introducing a Corbin FundMe site. As he got down on his knees to beg, Kevin Owens’ music played. KO, clearly fired up by the live audience, made his way to the ring and confronted the heel.
After Corbin stuck his own foot in his mouth by insulting Owens, KO dropped him with a stunner. Big E joined him in the ring as we prepared for the Fatal 4-Way main event. Shinsuke Nakamura and Seth Rollins rounded out the field.
The action got underway fast and furiously, with Rollins, Big E and Owens taking big bumps to the floor heading to the break. Back from the timeout, the action broke down. Owens delivered a top-rope elbow drop off the top of the ladder, driving Nakamura through the announce table.
Back inside, Rollins delivered the stomp to Big E, driving him face-first into another ladder for the pinfall victory. He stood tall atop a ladder to close out the show.
Rollins defeated Big E, Owens and Nakamura
Big E eating the pinfall, coupled with his de-emphasis over the last month, feels like a misdirect heading into Money in the Bank.
The brief backstage confrontation with Paul Heyman was very much foreshadowing, something this company does from time to time, and suggests Big E is likely to win the ladder match Sunday night so fans of his should not be worried about his prospects moving forward.
Rollins is one of WWE’s biggest stars and is prepping for a match with Edge at SummerSlam. Spotlighting him here felt like the right move, even if Owens was by far the most popular star in the match.
Hopefully, the reaction KO received is proof positive of the connection he has with fans and will only serve to strengthen confidence management has in him to be a top star.
The Corbin stuff prior to the match was great and only strengthens the sentiment that this character may end with the former king being more over than ever before. And that’s quite the statement considering the talent he has worked with over the last three years.
This was an excellent capper to the freshest episode of WWE television in a long damn time, thanks in large part to the return of fans to the arena. They were red-hot, greeted everyone like major stars and will certainly help enhance the product as WWE presents one of its top pay-per-views this Sunday.
Welcome back, fans.