The Fiend, Strowman Set for SummerSlam Payoff and More WWE SmackDown Fallout
WWE presented its best episode of SmackDown in months Friday night—a show that developed storylines, propelled existing ones and climaxed with the chaotic (and formal) introduction to new faction Retribution.
For the first time in months, it felt like the Fox network broadcast accomplished something rather than just tick along for the sake of providing fans and TV execs a show for the sake of a show. The result was an engaging two hours with a few major talking points.
From fiendish ghouls to best friends-turned-better enemies and logical storytelling, these are the biggest takeaways from Friday's SmackDown.
The Fiend and Bray Wyatt to Settle Their Feud at SummerSlam; Alexa Bliss' Role
The Fiend will challenge Braun Strowman for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam, as we found out Friday night. The Monster Among Men, using a cell phone with the video quality of an early-2000s flip phone, growled half of his words. But somewhere within was his acceptance of a match with Bray Wyatt's haunting alter ego.
What left the greatest impression during said segment was not Strowman's interesting promo but, rather, Alexa Bliss' involvement.
The previous week's show went off the air with The Fiend applying the mandible claw to Little Miss Bliss before fading to black. On Friday, she appeared in the ring with the Wyatt's more volatile personality but instead of appearing horrified as he approached for what appeared to be another mandible claw, she reached up and ran her hand over his face.
It could have been a diversionary tactic to save herself the agony of another attack, but do not count out the possibility that Bliss has developed sympathy or empathy for The Fiend ahead of SummerSlam. That Strowman openly said "I don't give a damn about Alexa" suggests the former Raw and SmackDown women's champion may be looking for revenge come August 23.
Might it be as Belle to Wyatt's Beast?
Whatever the case, you should read more into Bliss' seeming acceptance of The Fiend and the psychological effect it had on him as he turned away, almost ashamed to accept her attention. Rarely does that sort of detail exist in an angle or segment like this without being revisited at some point shortly thereafter.
What we know about Retribution, the newest chaos-driven faction in WWE: It has a knack for destruction, and there are definitely two women in the group.
We learned both of those things Friday on SmackDown as the ski mask-clad attackers hit the ring, drove commentators Michael Cole and Corey Graves to the dressing room, attacked Performance Center recruits and produced a chainsaw (among other implements) and destroyed the ring and everything around it.
There are a lot of comparisons to draw to Nexus who, 10 summers ago, executed a similar invasion on WWE programming. The ringside destruction and targeting of everyone in their path was most reminiscent of Wade Barrett and Co.'s arrival.
We knew who those men were and, relatively speaking, the reasons for their anger and rage right out of the gate.
We do not know either of those things about this invading faction.
"Retribution" suggests they are avenging some sort of wrong, but what might that be?
Perceived professional shortcomings perpetrated by a political atmosphere? Wrongdoings by management at large? Are there specific Superstars they will target?
The fact that an episode of SmackDown ended with fans intrigued and asking questions is an indication that the group's debut and the carnage that followed worked.
Even as some, like writer David Bixenspan, rightly questioned the optics of the ordeal.
Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville Heading Toward Intense Culmination of Feud
If you had predicted in January that Mandy Rose vs. Sonya Deville was going to become one of the longest-running, most intense and best-written feuds in WWE, you likely would have been laughed out of the room.
Here we are, some eight months after its start, and Rose and Deville are still embroiled in a feud that intensifies every time they share the screen. On July 31, Deville targeted Rose's beauty, seeking to strip away the only thing she was convinced Rose had to offer. Friday night, The Golden Goddess exploded back on to the scene, sporting a shorter hairdo and beating the ever-loving hell out of The Pride Fighter.
So intense was the brawl that Heavy Machinery, Miz, John Morrison and the referee had to separate them—and even then, it was not enough. Eventually, Otis ended up carrying Rose out of the ring to bring the battle to an end.
This was not a typical catfight by any means. It was a fist-throwing brawl between two competitors with real disdain for one another. It was intense, it was hard-hitting and it damn sure makes the audience want to see Rose and Deville settle their differences in a high-profile pay-per-view match.
Hopefully such a match takes place on August 23 at SummerSlam because those women, through all of their work to get the story to where it is now, have earned that spot.
SmackDown Makes Sense!
So often, WWE matches and storylines are written in a way that ensures a heel vs. babyface dynamic.
Friday night on SmackDown, we saw the creative team deviate from the norm, providing a logical storyline progression the likes of which the WWE faithful is not necessarily conditioned to expect.
Sheamus was in the midst of a physical battle with Matt Riddle when Shorty G got involved on behalf of King Corbin, who has been involved in a rivalry with Riddle for weeks. The artist formerly known as Chad Gable's interference led to Sheamus losing the match via disqualification, something that infuriated The Celtic Warrior.
Not only did he level G with a Brogue Kick, but he also marched backstage and confronted Corbin about it.
See, at least to Sheamus, wins still matter. And he was cost one by The King's plan for revenge. What came of it? A match between heel Sheamus and heel Corbin, but one that made sense within the context of the storyline.
Sheamus beat Corbin thanks to Riddle, and all was right with the world.
It remains to be seen whether Sheamus will, like Jeff Hardy, become intertwined into the program, resulting in a multi-man match at SummerSlam. For what it was Friday, though, Sheamus' frustration with Corbin and match with The King was a nice change of pace that demonstrated a more complete form of storytelling.
The much-maligned WWE Creative team should be applauded for it. And if they are, loudly enough, maybe we will see more circular storytelling in the future.