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On the road to Extreme Rules, SmackDown rolled into Knoxville, Tennessee, for an episode featuring a special homecoming for former women’s champion Bianca Belair.
What did The EST have in store for her friends and family in attendance and, more importantly, did Becky Lynch make her presence felt ahead of their match at Extreme Rules?
The answer lied within a broadcast that also featured Roman Reigns’ response to the announcement of a Universal Championship defense against Finn Balor at Extreme Rules and Seth Rollins’ explanation for his actions against Edge on last week’s show.
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Universal champion Roman Reigns, SmackDown tag team champions The Usos and Paul Heyman made their way to the ring to kick off the night’s festivities while Michael Cole and Pat McAfee narrated a recap of last week’s events.
Reigns encouraged Heyman to show the fans how to properly acknowledge him, and the special counsel did just that, insisting The Head of the Table does not fear beast (Brock Lesnar) nor Demon (Finn Balor).
“Brock Lesnar fears Roman Reigns,” Heyman exclaimed before Big E’s music interrupted, and the new WWE champion entered to a thunderous ovation. Finn Balor followed, and we had the seeds for the first match of the night: a tag team match pitting the babyfaces against The Usos in a non-title bout.
Big E and Balor dominated early in the contest until Jey Uso pulled the latter to the floor and Jimmy wiped him out with a tope suicida heading into the break. Balor eventually created separation back from the commercial and tagged Big E into the match.
The WWE champion exploded into the bout, laying waste to his longtime foes. Moments later, he delivered a Big Ending, and Balor added a Coup de Grace en route to an impressive victory.
Balor and Big E defeated The Usos
WWE did the right thing here by bringing Big E in for an appearance fresh off his WWE title win. The buzziest star in the company right now earned a huge pop from the fans, and justifiably so, as he joined Balor for a mostly fun and energetic tag match.
There is certainly an argument to be made that The Usos have achieved a certain level of stardom on Friday nights that should protect them in losses like this, but too many will have them looking more like stooges than genuine backup to Reigns.
The biggest takeaway from this one was the manner in which the babyfaces were presented as equals. Neither got over or won the match at the expense of their partner, and the result was a perfectly executed opener.
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Rick Boogs, with Intercontinental champion King Nakamura, looked to continue his recent winning ways as he battled Robert Roode, accompanied by tag team partner Dolph Ziggler.
Boogs weathered the storm, overcoming a concerted effort from the former NXT champion to score another impressive victory.
After the match, as the guitar-playing rock and roller joined Nakamura and commentator Pat McAfee for a celebration, Apollo Crews and Commander Azeez attacked from out of nowhere. They left the babyfaces lying before stomping Nakamura’s crown. Crews delivered a trash-talking promo to end the segment.
Boogs defeated Roode
Crews and Azeez attacking post-match was a nice surprise considering it has felt for weeks like Crews was on his way back out of relevancy. His return to the IC title picture by way of his attack on Nakamura and Boogs at least keeps the talented performer on television, even if there is no intention for him to win the match.
Even with Nakamura holding the title and Crews being a former champion, this all feels like a star-making vehicle for Boogs, who has seen his TV and ring time increase tenfold in recent weeks.
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Before Kevin Owens’ scheduled match with Happy Corbin, the heel attacked him, leaving him lying. The match never occurred.
Backstage, Kayla Braxton asked Paul Heyman about rumors surrounding Brock Lesnar potentially going to Raw in the WWE Draft. Big E popped up and got under the skin of the special counsel before The Usos appeared and wiped him out.
Seth Rollins hit the ring to address his actions from last week that left Edge in need of medical attention. The Architect feigned remorse only to ask the crowd what they thought was going to happen. Rollins blamed the fans for goading Edge into goading him. He recapped everything Edge put him through and how the fans reacted positively for it all.
Rollins said he saw fear in Edge’s eyes last week and, for a moment, he felt sorry for him. That feeling has been etched in his mind, and he can’t live with himself feeling sorry for someone like Edge. “For my own sanity, I have to finish you one way or another,” he said after issuing a challenge for one more match between them.
Rollins may be the most underrated performer in WWE since making the jump to SmackDown. From his program with Cesaro to this run with Edge, he has cut extraordinary promos and has delivered in nearly every in-ring outing. He has been superb but has flown under the radar on a brand championed by his former Shield brethren.
The idea of a feud-ending third match between Rollins and Edge is mighty appealing based on their previous encounters and would enhance any card it appears on. Especially if Rollins brings the level of performance he has thus far in 2021.
The Big E-Usos stuff was fine and sets the stage for a potential showdown between The Bloodline and New Day, an easy pay-per-view main event if WWE plays its cards right.
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Toni Storm and Liv Morgan battled Carmella and Zelina Vega in a tag team match that was originally scheduled for last week’s show but ended up being shunted to this week.
Before the action could really get going, Morgan bumped Carmella off the apron, on which The Most Beautiful Woman in All of WWE smacked her face. She screamed in agony, concerned she broke her nose. This led to a countout finish just a minute into the bout.
After the match, Morgan grabbed a mic and said she was tired of Carmella running away and challenged her to a match at Extreme Rules. Later, backstage, Carmella accepted the challenge, and Vega vowed that Morgan would have to go through her first.
Morgan and Storm defeated Vega and Carmella via countout
A week ago, SmackDown was devoid of any women’s matches. Tonight, it half-heartedly booked a “match” that it quickly bailed on. Some will say the challenge for a match at Extreme Rules is a step in the right direction, but why should fans of women’s wrestling have any hope whatsoever that said match will amount to anything of note when the blue brand’s division has been so underwhelmingly booked beyond the title picture?
Nothing about this did anything to encourage positivity or hope for the futures of any of these women, at least for now. And that is an enormous indictment on the creative team given the talent involved, including Storm, who should be competing alongside Bianca Belair and Becky Lynch for the women’s title but is stuck in a going-nowhere storyline as the third or fourth wheel.
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Dominik Mysterio’s frustrating quest for a win over Sami Zayn continued this week with father Rey watching from the commentary position.
The young competitor fought from underneath and delivered a big 619 as his dad cheered him on from ringside. A slight hesitation by Dominik allowed Zayn to get his knees up and score the win.
Zayn defeated Mysterio
The match itself was perfectly fine, but can we please stop with this pairing? Can we move on to fresh matchups for Dominik?
The repetition of WWE programming has led to understandable backlash from fans tired of watching the same thing every week. There are ways of continuing Dominik’s feud with Zayn, and his increasing frustration with his father, without beating the match into the ground the way the creative team has to this point.
Give us something different. Let Zayn taunt Dominik during a different match a week from tonight. Otherwise, fans’ attention will be lost.
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Mayor of Knox County, Tennessee, (and WWE Hall of Famer) Kane made a special appearance Friday night as he welcomed Bianca Belair back home. The EST made her way to the ring, her parents seated in the front row, and vowed to win back the SmackDown Women’s Championship from Becky Lynch at Extreme Rules.
As she sang “Rocky Top,” Lynch interrupted, mocking the song and backhandedly propping Belair up.
When a handshake turned to physicality, The Man wriggled out of a KOD and delivered the Manhandle Slam, leaving The EST on the mat as Lynch escaped up the ramp to close out the show.
Lynch is starting to rival husband Seth Rollins in terms of ridiculous attire, and her obnoxious interruption of Belair’s homecoming was such a great booking decision. What better way to establish a performer as an undisputed villain than by having her upstage, then embarrass, the hometown hero in front of friends and family?
All her actions here did was intensify a feud and leave fans wanting to see Belair beat her and take the title.
For a performer who everyone was absolutely sure would be cheered despite her heel status because of the way things went the last time, Lynch has been superb as the self-absorbed villain and will absolutely help establish Belair as the babyface star in the women’s division.