The Good, the Great and the Awesome from SmackDown (July 25)
With the countdown to SummerSlam underway, SmackDown rolled into Orlando for this week's broadcast.
Young stars took center stage Friday night as Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Paige, The Usos and Bray Wyatt all featured heavily on the show.
Reigns overcame the challenge of Alberto Del Rio, who provided the powerhouse with a far tougher fight than anyone could have imagined. Ambrose knocked off Cesaro in a huge No Disqualification match and the Usos defeated RybAxel, ending their monumental week on a high note.
Paige continued the evolution of her character, defeating Naomi and gleefully mocking Divas champion AJ Lee in the process. Bray Wyatt soundly defeated R-Truth to recover from his loss to Chris Jericho at Battleground.
Dolph Ziggler and Bo Dallas set their sights on The Miz's newly won intercontinental title, while Stardust and Goldust continued to fill the bizarre quota.
Friday's show was one of the best in recent memory. Everything meant something in the grand scheme of things and the talent featured figure to play a major role in the future of World Wrestling Entertainment.
With the show in the books, relive the very best of the July 25 episode of SmackDown with "The Good, the Great and the Awesome."
Naomi vs. Paige
Four days after brutally assaulting AJ Lee and executing a much-needed heel turn, Paige arrived on SmackDown to take on Naomi in a rematch of their Money in the Bank bout.
Paige skipped to the ring, clearly mocking the current Divas champion, then grabbed a microphone and cut an interesting promo. She giddily claimed that she and AJ were still friends, then revealed that she still liked Naomi as well.
She capitalized on interference from Cameron, beat Naomi in seconds with the PTO finisher and continued skipping around the squared circle.
It was an interesting development in the Paige character. One would assume that, yes, she is completely disingenuous with everything she says and does. At the same time, one cannot help but feel like WWE is falling back into the same tired booking methods of making a young Diva a crazed, unstable performer.
After AJ two years ago and Alicia Fox two months ago, the last thing the company needs is another Diva with an unpredictable, psychotic edge to her. There are far better and more effective ways to turn a woman heel that do not include her losing her mind.
Case in point: Cameron.
The former Funkadactyl attacked Naomi after the match. She could be overheard yelling, "I'm not the shadow," insinuating that she is driven to prove herself as Naomi's equal or superior. That is an effective way to tell a story, and Cameron did not have to snap or pour soda all over herself to do so.
There is no proof that Paige will be portraying an insane Diva as she continues her rivalry with AJ. And that is a good thing. The company has not devoted itself to telling that story, and it should distance itself immediately. Let Paige be the angry, intense anti-Diva she has proved to be in the past. It works and will continue to do so, if it's given the opportunity.
The Usos vs. RybAxel
The WWE tag team champions continued their incredible hot streak on SmackDown Friday night, wrestling a great match against Ryback and Curtis Axel to kick off the show.
Much has been made of The Usos' greatness, especially by this writer in particular, but there has not been nearly enough spotlight afforded to Ryback or Axel. Those two Superstars were thrown together in a makeshift tag team after their respective singles heel pushes failed miserably and were left to wallow in the crowded midcard.
Instead of feeling bad for themselves or working any less hard than they did before, they dedicated themselves to developing as a team and have quietly become a tremendous tandem.
Axel provides the more traditional fundamentals, while Ryback is a juggernaut, a powerful force capable of beating anyone at any time. It is the Big Guy's reluctance to carry himself as anything but a main event star that has helped the team retain legitimacy, despite losing more than they win.
The quality of competition they present was solidified by the sneaky trick The Usos had to resort to in order to defeat them. The champions used "twin magic" to knock off the heel team and continue their winning ways.
Stardust and Goldust
Anyone familiar with "The Good, the Great and the Awesome" knows of this writer's reluctance to include Stardust. For whatever reason, it simply had not clicked the way it had with others.
That changed Friday night.
For the first time since his debut, it felt like the Stardust character finally came into its own. Cody Rhodes was outstanding, using facial expressions and tics to enhance the character. The bit at the end with Goldust was a great punchline for the entire backstage segment.
The pretaped segments have helped establish the character without overexposing him in the ring. By the time the team returns to the squared circle, not only will it be a special occasion, they will also be more over as a result.
Roman Reigns vs. Alberto Del Rio
Regardless of the opponent, every match that Roman Reigns wrestles as a singles star at this point in his push is absolutely key to his development as an in-ring performer.
To say his move set is limited would be an understatement. What he has is an incredible foundation to build on. He has his signature offense, the moves that pop the crowd and lead to the hot finishes. He needs to find himself as a singles star, figure out what kind of worker he wants to be and go from there.
Working with different performers with different styles only helps him establish his comfort level, find the stuff that works for him and does not, and develop that into what will become his own unique style.
Del Rio, a technically sound worker with a sparkling resume and familiarity with the audience, was the perfect opponent for Reigns as he continues his trek toward SummerSlam and what appears to be a big singles match with Randy Orton.
He worked over Reigns' arm and shoulder, forced the explosive star to show some weakness and sell the offense, then returned the favor late in the match. His selling of the Superman Punch, in particular, was spectacular.
Reigns won, which should have no surprise to anyone. He entered the match with all the momentum and is clearly the star of the future based on all of the booking prior to the contest. He is the man shows should be built around, and Friday night's was.
A fine way to cap off what was a very good episode of SmackDown.
Dolph Ziggler and Bo Dallas Interrupt Miz TV
Don't look now, but there is an actual storyline developing around the Intercontinental Championship.
At Battleground on Sunday, The Miz hung around on the arena floor long enough to enter at the last second, eliminate Dolph Ziggler and win the Battle Royal to become the new IC champion. Friday night, he hosted a special edition of Miz TV in which he essentially patted himself on the back. After a brief conversation with his mother and some self-indulgence, Bo Dallas appeared, interrupting the festivities.
Before the two of them could exchange pleasantries or insults, Ziggler appeared. He stated that both were full of crap and that Miz has the gold because of, and is taking the credit for the work done by him.
A sneak attack by Dallas led to a match between he and Ziggler. With Miz at ringside, the Showoff saw an opportunity to humiliate him in front of his parents. He feigned a superkick attempt, to which Miz responded by nearly tipping over his chair while trying to protect his "moneymaker" face.
Moments later, Miz provided a distraction that allowed Dallas to score the pinfall victory on a roll up.
While the winner partook in a victory lap, Ziggler greeted him with a big superkick only to be shoved face first into the steel post, leaving Miz as the last man standing.
Not only do we have the issues between Ziggler and Miz, which make perfect sense following the events of Battleground, Dallas has now interjected himself in hopes of capturing his first singles main roster championship.
With three characters so different from one another, the impending angles and developments in the story should be fun to watch, as should the eventual title match.
Dean Ambrose vs. Cesaro
Steel chairs, kendo sticks and Seth Rollins...oh my!
Dean Ambrose was forced to overcome all three of those in order to defeat "Swiss Superman" Cesaro in Friday night's No Disqualification bout.
Demonstrating the never-say-die attitude that has helped him connect with audiences as a babyface in ways few could have imagined, Ambrose showed great resiliency as he took every major blow from Cesaro before mounting his comeback.
Even interference from the aforementioned Rollins was not enough to deter the Lunatic Fringe, who scored a roll-up victory over the former United States champion.
The match was incredible and completely unexpected for a show that is typically as meaningless as SmackDown. Both men worked extremely hard, and the fans rewarded them with a strong reaction to the story unfolding before their eyes.
Ambrose scoring the win, despite facing a very game Cesaro and enduring a sneak attack from Rollins, is exactly the type of victory he needed following a string of disqualification wins. It was a clean win that showed his guts and determination. There is no storyline possible that can replicate the effect that a crowd believing in a character and his toughness can have.
That is the case with Ambrose and why fans are responding to him as favorably as they are and will continue to over the weeks and months to come.