WWE SmackDown Results: Samoa Joe Finally Takes the Spotlight and Top Takeaways
Answers were the currency of the July 24 edition of WWE SmackDown with huge announcements set to shape the direction of the brand heading toward SummerSlam. Before the night even started, fans knew much of what to expect during these action-packed two hours.
After Monday Night Raw set its world title match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, it was only right that SmackDown do the same. AJ Styles has been a strong WWE champion, but this week Paige announced perhaps his biggest challenge to date in Samoa Joe.
Randy Orton's attacks last week on Jeff Hardy left many questions as no one was quite sure why he went after Hardy. Luckily, Orton laid bare his soul to open the show with a promo that reminded many why he is one of WWE's elite stars when motivated.
Rusev continued to struggle to figure out who should be in his corner to reach the next level. As the women's division continues to gain more recognition, the SmackDown Women's Championship match for SummerSlam was also set after Becky Lynch defeated Carmella to earn her title shot.
The biggest surprise of the night though came right near the end as Sheamus and Cesaro made their return after months away to hype their match against The Usos next week and likely set up for a match against The Bludgeon Brothers.
These were the big moments on an important edition of SmackDown, setting up some major feuds that will define the rest of the summer in WWE.
Samoa Joe's Title Shot Against AJ Styles Has Been a Long Time Coming
For far too long, The Samoan Submission Specialist has been underutilized in WWE, waiting for a chance to stand out. That seems to finally be coming to an end as Joe attacked Styles during a WWE Championship contract signing and knocked him out before signing on for a title match.
This will be The Destroyer's first main-roster title match and battle with The Phenomenal One in WWE, but this is a rivalry that has defined both men's careers getting to the company. Impact Wrestling was once defined by the work of Joe and Styles, carrying the company with their brutal clashes.
Both men may be a bit past their prime now, but they are smarter and more experienced, still putting on excellent matches when given a chance. Styles' recent rivals have not quite given him the spotlight most expected, but there is no way WWE will be able to ignore what Styles and Joe bring out of one another.
This will be a clash of styles that could easily steal the show at SummerSlam with Joe wearing down and brutalizing the resilient WWE champion to take his place atop SmackDown. Styles' 257-plus days as champion may all be building to Joe taking down the Face That Runs the Place.
Most still do not quite know what The Samoan Submission Specialist can do at his best, but they will see it against perhaps the best wrestler in WWE and one of Joe's longest standing rivals.
Randy Orton Is Back to Peak Form for the First Time in Years
Orton is an all-time great wrestler in WWE history, and he made that clear in his promo to open SmackDown. He ran down the crowd for never showing him respect while giving praise to other talent like Hardy, promising to end The Daredevil's career when is done with him.
This promo was simple and effective in a way few promos from The Viper have been in recent years. As great as Orton is, he often seems to phone it in, and this shows most clearly when he is actually motivated. This was a far more interesting side of Orton than anyone has seen for a while.
It actually felt like The Legend Killer was back, a gimmick Orton mostly gave up after late 2007. The resulting change has left the legend often feeling like a shell of his former shelf. His natural charisma disappeared behind a stoic predator gimmick that occasionally led to interesting stories.
That charisma was back on full display in this week's promo. It will be interesting to see how long we get to see Orton at his best, but it certainly looks like he is in top form at the moment. SmackDown will certainly benefit from one of the best in the business working motivated as a main-event heel.
Plus it will be interesting to see how Orton's new character will differ from his past work. We have seen Orton often be aggressive and calculating, but this new side could be his most vicious yet.
It May Finally Be Correct to Call Rusev a Face
After an argument backstage before the show began, Rusev fought Andrade Cien Almas in a clash to determine which of the two was more worthy of a WWE Championship opportunity. Once again, Rusev struggled to pull out the win only because of his support at ringside.
While Rusev looked dominant against Almas, he was distracted after Aiden English knocked down Lana at ringside because of Zelina Vega, allowing Cien to connect with a hammerlock DDT for the win. This story continues to rage on as Rusev struggles to decide if either of his managers should be in his corner.
In the mix of all this mayhem, The Bulgarian Brute put on a great match with Almas that showed off what Rusev can do as a face in the ring. He was explosive and driven to keep fighting after all of El Idolo's offense and taunts. The two meshed well in primarily a battle of strikes.
The Super Athlete is a great talent who clearly has the support of the fans. There have been several moments where he has worked as a face recently, but this came off as a true shift as Rusev's frustration pushes him to embrace the support of the crowd.
If it was not the beginning of a full face turn, it should have been. Rusev has waited long enough for a chance to play the hero for a fan base begging to root for him.
Becky Lynch Should Be the One to Dethrone Carmella
The journey has reached its final stage as Lynch defeated Carmella this week with the Dis-arm-her, earning a title opportunity at SummerSlam. The first-ever SmackDown women's champion has not been able to reclaim the championship since Alexa Bliss first took it off her in December 2016.
A year and a half is a long time for any top star to be without gold especially arguably the most popular female star in the division during that time. Praising The Irish Lasskicker is unnecessary as her work speaks for itself, but WWE has not taken notice of Lynch over other women including her SummerSlam opponent.
The way Lynch has gotten back into contention has been impressively simple, showcasing the importance of momentum. She went through the entire women's SmackDown heel roster, one after the other, building an aura of invincibility that was clear in her match with Carmella this week.
The first clash between Lynch and Carmella was solid with Lynch keeping up the pace and hiding some of the SmackDown women's champion's obvious in-ring shortcomings. She will again likely have to carry The Princess of Staten Island through their title match at SummerSlam.
This story has subtly built Becky Balboa as the right woman to finally dethrone Carmella. The champion has been an entertaining presence on SmackDown, but she has not proven she can step up in the big moments. Lynch would guarantee better title defenses and has earned that spotlight.
The Bar Is Back and None Too Soon
Sheamus and Cesaro have been gone for months, absent since their loss to The New Day in late May to earn a spot in the Money in the Bank ladder match. This week, they finally returned to taunt the victorious New Day and their opponents in the tag team title tournament next week, The Usos.
The Bar has a claim to be the best tag team in the world, and it has been disconcerting for the duo to be gone for so long without explanation. Hopefully, the European pair got time to rest up while away as it is the perfect moment for them to challenge The Bludgeon Brothers at SummerSlam.
This short title tournament is a great way to showcase the division, which is top heavy to be sure. The three teams at the top alongside Sanity are a powerful foursome that make for interesting threats to the current champions, Harper and Rowan.
That said, The Bludgeon Brothers have already defeated The Usos multiple times, and Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods and Big E should stay focused on their rivalry with Eric Young, Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe. The stage is set for a return to form and an excellent match at SummerSlam from The Bar.