WWE SmackDown Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from July 31
Last week's SmackDown featured some huge turning points for the brand, as the major SummerSlam feuds were set. The promise of forward momentum drove the July 31 edition of the show, as rivals met face-to-face just weeks before clashing in the ring on August 19.
Jeff Hardy was set to return after Randy Orton's brutal attack weeks ago, facing a new version of his longtime rival, who has promised to end his career. Samoa Joe was also expected to deliver a personal message to AJ Styles after his brutal attack at the WWE Championship contract signing last week.
With Becky Lynch defeating Carmella last week, she is now No. 1 contender to the SmackDown Women's Championship, but there are still several weeks for the current champion to try to scheme her way out of this situation. There was also no doubt that Daniel Bryan would once more go after The Miz.
The biggest match set for the night was the second semifinal of the SmackDown Tag Team Championships tournament, as The Usos fought the returning Sheamus and Cesaro, with both teams hoping to regain tag team glory. It was also announced that Zelina Vega would make her main roster in-ring debut against Lana.
While it was not expected to be a night of great wrestling, this week's SmackDown could be a huge moment for feud building and potential major announcements related to SummerSlam.
Charlotte Flair Returns to Ruin Carmella's Perfectly Laid Plan
Renee Young interviewed Becky Lynch, who quickly went over her disappointing history with the SmackDown Women's Championship. Carmella interrupted and went into their history, seemingly praising and supporting The Irish Lass Kicker.
She extended her hand as a sign of respect before James Ellsworth's music hit. The SmackDown women's champion used the distraction to assault Lynch and pulled out a steel chair to deal serious damage.
However, Charlotte Flair made her return to save Lynch and send Carmella up the ramp.
This was an excellent opener. Carmella pulled out one of the best promos of her career, putting over her struggles before showing her disingenuous nature. This whole segment embraced the dynamic of the rivalry, with The Princess of Staten Island knowing she needs to get any advantage possible over Lynch.
It's good to see Charlotte back in a WWE ring, but Lynch had been built up naturally on her own with The Queen out of the picture. Her best friend coming back could too easily take the spotlight away from The Irish Lass Kicker when it matters most.
The crowd throughout this segment was fired up, clearly behind Lynch's return to title contention. Charlotte's involvement is not necessary and may hurt the feud more than help it.
Tag Team No. 1 Contender's Tournament: The Usos vs. Sheamus and Cesaro
The New Day came out to watch this match closely at its own announce table. The Bar and The Usos went all out, with Sheamus and Cesaro using their best devious strategies to ground their explosive opponents.
It was not enough, with Jey Uso getting the hot tag and hitting a diving splash. Cesaro broke up the pinfall but was taken out, barely recovering enough to catch Jimmy with a European uppercut during the Double Uce.
Sheamus blocked Jey's diving splash with double knees and rolled him up for three. Afterward, New Day and The Bar had a standoff, prepared for their match next week.
The Bar def. The Usos by pinfall to advance to the finals of the SmackDown tag team title tournament
This was a good match between two great tag teams that used their time well. Few, if any, can match up to these two teams in WWE right now, and the only reason this likely wasn't as strong as their Survivor Series clash was commercial breaks hurting the flow.
While it is most likely New Day will emerge from this tournament with a title opportunity, it would be far more interesting to see Sheamus and Cesaro clash with The Bludgeon Brothers. That match would be a brutal tag team brawl worthy of a top spot at SummerSlam.
Samoa Joe Promises to Send AJ Styles Home to Finally Be with His Family
Samoa Joe delivered a personal message to AJ Styles, talking about just how well he knew the WWE champion. He taunted The Phenomenal One, calling him a liar who did not really care about his family as much as traveling and performing.
His speech ended with a promise that he would take the title from Styles so The Phenomenal One could spend more time at home.
This was a quality short promo from The Samoan Submission Specialist. However, it felt a bit anticlimactic, not really adding anything to this feud.
With Styles not around to respond, Joe basically just got to run his mouth and stall until this rivalry picks up.
Randy Orton Attempts to Erase Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy called out Randy Orton, demanding he come out and fight, and The Viper answered.
Just as The Apex Predator looked ready to enter the ring, Shinsuke Nakamura assaulted Hardy with kicks. After Orton encouraged the United States champion, The Artist hit The Daredevil with a Kinshasa.
Orton then went on the attack, refusing to even hit the RKO as he stomped on Hardy viciously. He connected with a hanging DDT to the floor. Finally, he set Hardy on the announce table and wiped off his face paint, declaring the Enigma had been erased.
It is rare to see beatdowns in WWE these days that feel this personal. Orton had a clear motivation and did not resort to hitting his signature offense for the sake of popping the crowd. He even spent the time to wipe away Hardy's face paint as an attempt to take his identity.
Nakamura's involvement in this feud is still unclear, but it will likely lead to a Triple Threat at SummerSlam for the U.S. title. Hardy vs. Orton has been built extremely well in a short time, and The Artist will benefit from working with the two veterans.
Lana vs. Zelina Vega
After an early burst of aggression from Lana, Zelina Vega took over, using Andrade "Cien" Almas' signature offense.
As Vega went for a hammerlock DDT, Lana fought back with Almas trying to distract her. Aiden English ran in to take out Almas, but this allowed Vega to roll up Lana with a handful of tights.
Vega def. Lana by pinfall
This was not as bad a match as one would expect, with Vega doing her best to carry Rusev's former manager. Lana still has serious work to do if she wants to be seen as a legitimate competitor, as she's not even comfortable with basic transitions.
It is likely Vega will not wrestle too much on the main roster, as she came up as the manager of El Idolo, but she can work a strong match with anyone, given her seven years of in-ring experience and clear athleticism.
Daniel Bryan Calls Out The Miz
Daniel Bryan came out and called The Miz's actions last week a disgrace. He then demanded The A-Lister come out to fight him.
However, Miz instead appeared on the TitanTron. The Beard challenged him to a match at SummerSlam, but The Awesome One called Bryan a crybaby and refused.
This was a near-perfect segment. Bryan and The Miz were on fire, throwing everything at each other. You could tell just how important this match is to both of them. It was only ruined by the decision to put a bunch of crying babies on the screen in an annoying cacophony.
The frustrating finish aside, this feud is the most heated and exciting part of SmackDown at a time when the brand is on fire.
Carmella vs. Charlotte Flair (If Charlotte Wins, She Is Added to SummerSlam)
Before coming out to the ring, Carmella taunted Lynch and Charlotte, calling their friendship a sham.
The Queen looked off early in this contest, showing ring rust against the wily champion. Carmella even threw Charlotte into the timekeeper's area to try to take a count-out.
Lynch watched backstage as her friend finally answered Carmella, hitting a big boot and then a moonsault off the barricade before a Natural Selection for a near-fall.
The champion hit a superkick for a near-fall and tried in frustration to lock in a figure four, only for Charlotte to turn it into a Figure Eight for the tapout.
Charlotte def. Carmella by submission to earn a spot in the SummerSlam SmackDown Women's Championship match
This was a better match than Carmella and Charlotte have had in the past, telling a more complete story with fewer botches, though it did not quite match up to the match the champion had with Lynch last week.
The problem here is the same old story for Lynch. She had the perfect build and hype to take down Carmella all on her own, but Charlotte's return has muddied the entire story. Now it is a Triple Threat that will likely end with The Queen reclaiming her crown.