The Good, the Great and the Awesome from SmackDown (5/30/14)
Just 48 hours prior to Payback, World Wrestling Entertainment presented a SmackDown that featured a champion vs. champion match, a Last Man Standing match and an overall solid build to Sunday's pay-per-view broadcast.
The match of the night was the clash between Intercontinental champion Bad News Barrett and United States champion Sheamus. The appearance by Cesaro and advocate Paul Heyman at ringside ensured that the Celtic Warrior would have to keep one eye on his opponent and one eye on the top contender to his title.
Bray Wyatt previewed Sunday's clash against John Cena with a Last Man Standing match for the main event against one-half of the WWE Tag Team champions, Jimmy Uso. Would he be able to eliminate Uso from the equation, lessening Cena's backup by one, or would Uso score one of the biggest wins of his young career?
Paige was in action ahead of her Divas title defense against Alicia Fox, and Big E warmed up for his battle against Rusev Sunday night by taking on the aggressive Titus O'Neil.
Adam Rose was in action, as he squared off with Jack Swagger in a match that many assumed would be held off until Payback.
The hype machine was in full force as SmackDown hit the SyFy airwaves Friday night.
Now, relive the very best of the best with this week's the Good, the Great and the Awesome!
Paige vs. Tamina
One of the most overused booking crutches in today's WWE is the one in which the heel attempts to distract the babyface from ringside. Friday night on SmackDown, the creative team once again leaned heavily on that crutch to put the final touches on the Divas Championship feud between Paige and Alicia Fox.
This time, however, it worked within the context of the story.
Whereas most babyfaces have no reason to divert their attention from an opponent to the heel on the outside, Paige absolutely had to keep her eye on Fox while also waging war with second-generation Diva Tamina Snuka.
The unpredictable "loose cannon" nature of the Fox character created a situation in which Paige could have fallen prey to an attack at the hands of the crazed No. 1 contender at any time.
For a lesser contender, it could have created a problem, but the creative team did a great job of making Paige look like a world beater by overcoming the distraction and still managing to knock off rival Snuka.
Fox prancing around the ring, taking selfies with fans and generally being a nuisance was excellent and allowed the character to continue gaining momentum ahead of her championship bout Sunday night.
Big E Dominates
One of the most intriguing matches at Payback is the one between "Bulgarian Brute" Rusev and former Intercontinental champion Big E.
They powerhouses are very similar workers. Both are incredibly strong and utilize a power-based offense but have deceptive speed and agility. Most importantly, they both came up through NXT and thus have a great understanding of WWE style.
Whether that understanding leads to a pay-per-view quality match Sunday night remains to be seen, but the company did a solid job of defining the issues between them (U.S. pride vs. Russian pride) and put E over the game Titus O'Neil in impressive fashion.
Lana is the key to getting the program over, and her promo work and the command she has over the audience is improving and increasing with every passing week.
A solid, old-school wrestling feud set up by a simple yet effective segment.
Last Man Standing
It is somewhat surprising that WWE did not do more to promote the fact that a major stipulation match would headline this week's SmackDown.
In preparation for his match against John Cena Sunday night, and in hopes of taking out part of Cena's backup, Bray Wyatt took on Jimmy Uso in a far more competitive Last Man Standing match than anyone could have expected.
What looked on the surface to be a showcase for Wyatt turned into a hard-fought match between two of the bright young stars in WWE. Uso channeled his uncle Umaga on occasion, using his high-impact offense to leave Wyatt reeling, but it was the Reaper of Souls who had the last laugh, as he delivered Sister Abigail on the floor to become the last man standing.
It was a great use of a gimmick match to sell Sunday's pay-per-view. Newer fans unfamiliar with the match received a small taste of what they can expect, while regular fans are faced with questions surrounding Jimmy Uso's availability and whether the numbers game will prove too much for Cena come Payback.
Great booking and an even better showing for Wyatt, who has been absolutely unstoppable in 2014.
Champion vs. Champion
Sheamus is one of those Superstars fans will look back on with far more respect and admiration than they have for him now.
An extremely talented worker who gets better with every match he wrestles, the current United States champion and Bad News Barrett, the current Intercontinental champion, delivered a stellar wrestling match Friday night as they prepared for their individual title defenses Sunday night at Payback.
The only negative coming out of the bout was that the red-hot Barrett had to lose, but the fact that said loss came against someone with a resume like Sheamus will make it easier for fans to get over.
The presence of Cesaro and Paul Heyman at ringside during the match, followed by Sheamus' post-bout altercation with both of them, only added more heat to what should be one of the better matches on the Payback card.
The Shield is Ready for Payback
The Hounds of Justice kicked off SmackDown with a promo that was short and to the point.
In it, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns vowed to gain retribution for the beatdown that left them lying to end Raw.
Rollins played up the elimination stipulation and the fact that any member of Evolution could find themselves on the losing end of a numbers game. He hinted that the The Shield would love to have a three-on-one advantage against current COO and Evolution leader Triple H.
Ambrose was loud, somewhat obnoxious and unstable, but his words came across very clear.
Reigns' soft-spoken intensity continues to work and is an element that sets him apart from his teammates.
Overall, the promo did exactly what it was intended to do, which is shine some light on Sunday's main event.
There have been episodes of SmackDown with better wrestling, but this week's broadcast was everything that Monday's go-home episode of Raw was not.
Every match and segment, save the Adam Rose-Jack Swagger ordeal, built to something on Sunday's Payback card.
From the Last Man Standing match to the champion vs. champion battle to Paige overcoming a distraction attempt from Alicia Fox to score a win over Tamina, the entire show hit on every bout and created some interest or intrigue for Sunday's event.
An effective show with a great match right in the middle of it made for an enjoyable two hours.