WWE SmackDown Results: Biggest Winners, Losers and Moments from July 25
The SmackDown Live brand had a lot to make up for after an underwhelming Battleground pay-per-view as it arrived in Richmond, Virginia, for Tuesday's USA Network broadcast.
Perhaps motivated by poor reviews for the extravaganza, the brand presented one of its finest episodes of TV in recent memory, highlighted by the return of Chris Jericho, the announcement of a gigantic No. 1 Contender's match for next week's show and a new United States champion in AJ Styles.
Neither Styles nor Jericho made this week's list of winners, though, as that honor was saved for a handful of other Superstars who left their imprint on Tuesday's broadcast.
Shinsuke Nakamura looked like the Shinsuke Nakamura everyone knows and loves as he bowled over Baron Corbin. John Cena brought unwavering confidence to his confrontation with Jinder Mahal. Naomi was brimming with that same confidence as she told off Natalya, and The Usos reintroduced an element of danger to their act by obliterating The New Day.
Not quite so lucky, though, were Lana and Mike Kanellis, whose creative directions are not quite working to expectations.
Why not? Why did the aforementioned winners earn that status?
Find out with this recap of Tuesday's show.
Winner: Shinsuke Nakamura
After a dreadful bit of booking at Battleground, Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Baron Corbin Tuesday night and earned a No. 1 Contender's match against John Cena on next week's August 1 episode of SmackDown Live.
The King of Strong Style unleashed with a furious vengeance on Corbin, repaying him for all of the sneak attacks in the weeks leading into Battleground, not to mention the cowardly low blow he endured in Philadelphia.
Exploding across the ring with his Kinshasa finisher to the back of Corbin's head, Nakamura put an exclamation point on their rivalry and cashed his ticket to next Tuesday night and the biggest match of his entire WWE career.
For years now, the idea of Nakamura vs. Cena was only realistic on a grand stage such as the upcoming SummerSlam event or a WrestleMania. With Cena's days in the ring seemingly numbered, WWE must get everything they can out of the franchise star, beginning with a dream match against The King of Strong Style.
Expect Nakamura to rise to the occasion and deliver one of the best performances in recent SmackDown Live history as he faces the measuring stick in professional wrestling.
Loser: Mike Kanellis
Mike Kanellis' downward spiral began at Money in the Bank when he debuted alongside wife Maria, the real star of the act, with the most obnoxiously C-level, mid-2000s gimmick imaginable. It only worsened when the commentary team repeatedly emasculated him for taking his wife's name and seemingly reached the bottom of the barrel Sunday night at Battleground when he lost his first pay-per-view match just one month into his run.
Tuesday night may have topped even that low as he endured another Helluva Kick and lost a tag team match to Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger.
His partner Aiden English had been the biggest jobber on Tuesday nights by far until Sunday's fluke victory over Dillinger. He had been the punching bag for the rest of the locker room, yet here he was Tuesday being spared the loss as Kanellis ate the pinfall.
Kanellis has found success as a fairly high-profile heel in Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling and TNA Wrestling. He has the tools to succeed in WWE and has demonstrated as much everywhere he has been. Saddling him with a bad gimmick, essentially announcing to the world that his wife is the bigger star and beating him in singles and tag team matches will not net success of any kind.
It is not too late to rehabilitate him, but WWE Creative must think fast and find another way to get him over, because The Power of Love shtick is dead on arrival.
Winner: John Cena
"It was nice to meet you. You can't see me. Hit the trumpets."
Blunt, unwaveringly confident John Cena is awesome.
Tuesday night, he confronted Jinder Mahal, admitted he respects the WWE champion for doing what is necessary to retain a title that is so important to him but advised him not to get too comfortable with the title because at SummerSlam, he is taking it and becoming a 17-time champion.
His promo was short, sweet and devoid of any overscripting by WWE Creative. It was to the point without becoming too preachy, as most of Cena's work heading into Battleground descended into.
That closing line was phenomenal—it both put an exclamation point on Cena's challenge while poking fun at what has become a formula for Cena promos over the years. It was also completely dismissive of Mahal as a threat, something that could become a story in itself if Cena takes The Maharaja too lightly heading into SummerSlam.
As a character, Lana is one of the best female performers in WWE. As The Ravishing Russian, she understood the little nuances that make characters believable and effective. In her new role of a wrestler, though, she is a fish out of water.
It is clear from booking that her character is absolutely meant to be someone who is woefully underprepared to be a wrestler. She has been openly laughed at by Naomi, beaten in short order by everyone she wrestles and taken under Tamina's wing for more training.
Yet in recent weeks, it feels as though WWE Creative has forgotten to play that part of the character up. The laughing has evaporated. There has been little mention of the fact that she does not belong in the ring with the likes of Becky Lynch or Charlotte.
After Tuesday night's tag team match with Tamina against Lynch and Charlotte, she was on the receiving end of outrage from her second-generation partner, but again, that felt more like frustration from a loss than Tamina erupting over the fact that this former manager cannot actually wrestle.
WWE Creative has to get back to presenting Lana as the unskilled wrestler she is, because booking her as someone who loses all the time without reminding the audience why it is that she loses is a recipe for creative disaster.
With every passing week, Naomi grows more confident in her role as champion.
Tuesday night, she cut what was one of her best promos to date. What started as a bit rehearsed became this declaration of confidence. She defended herself against claims from Natalya that she has disrespected the women's title by turning it into "a toy" via her use of lights.
She also vowed to introduce the third-generation No. 1 contender to the glow come SummerSlam, never once appearing rattled or ill-affected by The Queen of Harts' threats to restore honor to the title.
There was a time where Naomi appeared visibly shaken in promo segments. She looked nervous and sometimes even stumbled over her words. Winning the women's championship has brought her a renewed sense of confidence that has helped her in her performances and led to her carrying herself like the top star in the division, even when WWE Creative does not necessarily treat her that way.
After weeks of seconds-long matches in which she ran over Lana, it will be nice to see the champ enter Brooklyn's Barclays Center and have an actual wrestling match against someone as talented and respected as Natalya, who may be the best worker on the entire women's roster.
Winners: The Usos
The Usos lost the SmackDown Tag Team Championships Sunday night in the best match of the Battleground pay-per-view. Rather than taking the "aw, shucks" approach that so many former champions do, they sent a message loud and clear to The New Day, attacking them and leaving Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and Big E lying in a heap on the stage.
The Usos looked like rabid wolverines as they took out their frustration and anger on the fun-loving new champions. There were no jokes, no laughing or carrying on. They were pissed off and unleashed their fury in a way that made it clear to the audience just how much the titles mean to them.
The attack escalated the rivalry and sets Jimmy and Jey up for a rematch, presumably at SummerSlam. Given how extraordinary their bout at Battleground was, booking one more match between the two teams is a wise move on WWE's part.
After all, on a night in which everything else at Battleground underwhelmed, the twins and the new champions wowed the Philadelphia audience and reminded them that tag team wrestling is still alive and well—even if there is less than a handful of teams on the blue brand roster.