WWE SmackDown Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from July 23

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2021

WWE SmackDown Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from July 23

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    Credit: WWE on Fox

    The Summer of Cena continued Friday on SmackDown as the star of several of this summer's blockbuster films returned to the company that made him a household name to confront universal champion Roman Reigns.

    After their tense encounter at Money in the Bank, what did Cena have to say to the champion, and would Reigns accept his challenge for a match at SummerSlam on August 21?

    Find out now with this recap of Friday's show, a simulcast from Cleveland and Miami's Rolling Loud music festival.

Match Card

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    Announced for Friday's show are:

    • John Cena returns to SmackDown
    • SmackDown Women's Championship Match: Bianca Belair vs. Carmella
    • Toni Storm makes her SmackDown debut

    Coverage begins at 8 p.m. 

John Cena Kicks Off SmackDown

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    Credit: WWE

    John Cena exploded through the curtain, drawing a huge reaction as he kicked off the first episode of SmackDown on the road to SummerSlam. The franchise star immediately reiterated his challenge to Roman Reigns for a Universal Championship match on pay-per-view.

    Cena said SummerSlam is a chance for all of us to stand up for what we believe in, then asked "whose team are you on?!" as fans erupted into chants of his last name. The 16-time champ called out Reigns repeatedly to no avail.

    Instead, Paul Heyman made his way onto the SmackDown stage and said Cena isn't worthy of being listened to by The Head of the Table. He said Cena will get his answer later tonight...but on Reigns' time. The special counsel for The Tribal Chief mocked Cena's music in a funny bit to close out the segment.

         

    Grade

    B

        

    Analysis

    Cena was great here, the consummate entertainer. He brought energy to the show right out of the gate, captivated the audience with every word he spoke and framed the feud with Reigns exactly as intended. He represents respect. The Tribal Chief? Selfishness.

    Heyman answering on behalf of Reigns and setting up a main event promo segment for later may not be everyone's preferred conclusion to a show, but given the star power involved, it is exactly what a show this close to one of WWE's premier events deserves.

Finn Balor vs. Sami Zayn

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    Credit: WWE

    Finn Balor battled Sami Zayn in the night's first match, the result of The Prince's return to the main roster a week ago, when he interrupted the conspiracy-minded loudmouth. After several moments of nonsense from the heel, Balor fired back, stomping away at him and flattening him at ringside with a dive heading into the break. During the timeout, Zayn established control, and coming out of it he grounded Balor with a side headlock and followed with a DDT.

    Balor fought back, countered out of an exploder suplex and delivered a double stomp. The sling blade followed and the former universal champion put his opponent away with the Coup de Grace for the hard-fought victory.

         

    Result

    Balor defeated Zayn

        

    Grade

    C+

        

    Analysis

    There wasn't much to the match, but there doesn't have to be. Balor and Zayn are old pros who almost could sleepwalk their way through an adequate match. The commercial break certainly hurt the flow, but both men upped the intensity for a fun final stretch.

    Balor winning should have been a no-brainer given his recent return, but considering the way management has treated other NXT champions recently, it was still something worth crossing your fingers and toes over.

    The commentary team put Balor over strong, especially Pat McAfee. Time will tell if The Prince's return to the big stage of the WWE main roster will net him better results than his first trip there.

Baron Corbin's Descent Continues; a Random Brawl with IC Title Implications

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    Credit: WWE

    Backstage, a dejected Baron Corbin revealed to Kayla Braxton that he lost money on last week's attempt at collecting funds to help him get back on his feet, thanks to a crooked business partner. "What's wrong with me?" he questioned before walking away.

    Mr. Money in the Bank Big E made his way to the ring, just five days after retrieving a briefcase that will bring him a guaranteed opportunity at a world title of his choosing. Before he could really get into his in-ring promo, intercontinental champion Apollo Crews and Commander Azeez interrupted.

    Dolph Ziggler and Bobby Roode followed, as did Rick Boogs and Shinsuke Nakamura. Cesaro was the last out, expressing his desire for a shot at the gold, before a brawl featuring all of the competitors broke out.

    The babyfaces cleared the heels out of the ring, culminating with Cesaro swinging Crews and standing tall to close out the random segment.

        

    Grade

    F

        

    Analysis

    What a lazy bit of booking on the part of a creative team who could not possibly have phoned in a segment of television worse than it did here.

    Big E and Crews had previous issues, so it makes sense that the IC champ would try to ruin his rival's big moment. But Ziggler and Roode? Nakamura? Cesaro? None of them had any recent connection with each other.

    If the intention was to bring everyone together to create a brand new title picture, there were certainly better and more interesting ways to do it than a nondescript, random-ass brawl. 

    If there is a silver lining, the spotlight on Cesaro suggests he will be the next challenger to Crews' title and, quite possibly, the man to dethrone him.

Angelo Dawkins (with Montez Ford) vs. Chad Gable (with Otis)

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    Credit: WWE

    The rivalry between The Street Profits and Alpha Academy continued in singles action, live from the Rolling Loud music festival in Miami, as Angelo Dawkins battled Chad Gable.

    The 2012 Olympian shook off Dawkins' early onslaught and targeted the left arm. Dawkins survived submission attempts, fought back and ultimately pinned Gable to recapture momentum in the feud.

        

    Result

    Dawkins defeated Gable

        

    Grade

    C

        

    Analysis

    This wasn't exactly the type of match you would want to put on stage to generate a reaction from a crowd of casual fans, but The Street Profits always bring energy to their performances, and having longtime wrestling fan Wale introduce them to the audience didn't hurt. 

    Dawkins won, but the biggest takeaway was just how cool the visual was.

    The stage was awesome, the sea of fans was stunning and WWE embracing pop culture that isn't somehow six years too late is always welcome.

SmackDown Women's Championship Match: Bianca Belair vs. Carmella

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    Credit: WWE.com

    SmackDown women's champion Bianca Belair wrapped up the coverage from Rolling Loud, defending her title against "The Most Beautiful Woman in All of WWE," Carmella.

    The EST dominated early before Mella pulled her down on the apron, the champion's back and neck crashing off the hardest part of the ring. Belair spent several minutes on the defensive but fought back, steamrolled the challenger with a big shoulder tackle and eventually put her away with the KOD.

    Belair celebrated in front of a sea of fans to close out the segment.

        

    Result

    Belair defeated Carmella to retain

        

    Grade

    C+

        

    Analysis

    Like the previous match, the title bout faced an uphill battle. Fans in attendance at Rolling Loud, for the most part, were not familiar with Belair or Carmella, and it showed. The work was there, the match was perfectly acceptable and Belair winning was the right call. Belair having that spotlight was a huge deal for her and a company desperately seeking mainstream acceptance.

    The question now is where the EST goes from here.

    She has exhausted the feud with Carmella, but potential matchups against NXT call-ups like Shotzi and Nox and the debuting Toni Storm await. A great heel to counteract her phenomenal babyface act would be the best option, but such a performer is not readily available on the blue brand.

    That is, until Sasha Banks comes back.

Edge and Seth Rollins' Verbal Spar

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    Credit: WWE

    Edge made his way to the ring, back live in Cleveland, ready to address the controversy surrounding his loss to Roman Reigns. He reminded the audience that he was in The Brood and The Ministry of Darkness, insinuating the lengths he is willing to go to avenge Seth Rollins costing him the Universal Championship at Money in the Bank.

    Rollins made his way to the ring and took exception to the likes of Edge and John Cena jumping the line and taking opportunities. "Nothing would make me happier than to crush your dreams," he told the 2012 Hall of Famer.

    Rollins admitted to hesitating to put Edge down and out forever seven years ago but suggested he would not blink at the opportunity to do it again. Edge, admitting he is a liar when he said he wouldn't put his hands on The Architect, attacked him. Rollins retreated before The Rated R Superstar could deliver a spear.

        

    Grade

    A

       

    Analysis

    The work here from Rollins was excellent. He is such a hateable little jerk. The obnoxious laugh and over-the-top outfits, combined with a very real ability to beat any man he sets foot in the ring with, makes him one of the best heels in the industry.

    He is exactly the guy to position across from Edge to ensure The Rated R Superstar remains a main event player without consistently having to be in the main event. It also elevates Rollins, who has been involved in significant rivalries with Cesaro and Rey Mysterio but has been conspicuous in his absence from the world title picture on both Raw and SmackDown.

    The likelihood that both men benefit, the matches are awesome and the WWE Universe enjoys some hella fun television on the road to, and coming out of, SummerSlam is high.

Toni Storm Debut vs. Zelina Vega

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    Credit: WWE on Fox

    Former NXT UK women's champion Toni Storm made her SmackDown debut this week, battling Zelina Vega, herself fresh off an appearance in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match five days earlier.

    Storm impressed, finishing off Vega in short order with a devastating headbutt and Storm Zero.

        

    Result

    Storm defeated Vega

        

    Grade

    D

        

    Analysis

    There was not enough time for this to grade out any better.

    Storm hit her offense and looked strong as she tossed Vega around the ring with suplexes, so that is a positive. What is not, though, is Vega's usage early in her return to the company.

    She has yet to win a match, has no clear storyline direction and appears no better off than she was when she was employed the first time. How WWE cannot recognize the asset it has in the charismatic performer is astonishing, for all the wrong reasons.

    Hopefully, it figures out what to do with Vega sooner rather than later because it absolutely should not allow her to fade into obscurity because of its own creative shortcomings.

Dominik Mysterio vs. Jimmy Uso

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    Credit: WWE

    On the heels of a disappointing Money in the Bank in which he and father Rey Mysterio lost the SmackDown tag team titles to The Usos, Dominik Mysterio battled Jimmy in singles competition with their respective tag partners at ringside.

    Dominik had his opponent reeling entering the commercial break, wiping him out with a dive to the floor. Uso, though, seized control during the timeout and maintained it after. He wore Mysterio down, but the rookie competitor fought his way back into the match.

    Late, Jimmy scored a rollup with an assist from Jey for the win, shades of the finish from Sunday night. As the victorious Uso and his twin brother made their way up the ramp, Roman Reigns' music played and The Head of the Table made his way to the ring.

        

    Result

    Uso defeated Mysterio

        

    Grade

    C+

        

    Analysis

    A good, spirited wrestling match that played on the ending of the title match from Sunday, this was a wholly acceptable conclusion to the in-ring portion of the night.

    The Usos build momentum, Mysterio ate a pinfall that does nothing to hurt him or his dad and The Bloodline stood tall heading into the break. It was a great visual heading into the main event segment of the night and keeps alive the side feud to whichever challenger steps to Reigns and The Usos' dominance over the SmackDown brand next.

Roman Reigns Answers John Cena's Challenge

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    Credit: WWE

    Reigns addressed the challenge from John Cena made on Raw and echoed earlier in the show. He mocked Cena, saying Hollywood fooled him because the guy that's back now is the same guy we've been watching for the last 15 years. He denied Cena's challenge, which brought out Finn Balor.

    The Prince stood across from Reigns, not to acknowledge him but to issue a challenge of his own.

    "Roman's scared" chants spilled from the stands before The Tribal Chief accepted.

    The show ended on a cliffhanger, with no date immediately announced for the impending match.

        

    Grade

    A

        

    Analysis

    This was a great segment, the likes of which we don't get enough from WWE.

    Reigns denounced Cena and set up a big match with Balor. The result is increased intrigue as to where the Cena feud is heading and interest in a potential main event run for Balor. More importantly, WWE has potentially planted the seeds for its post-SummerSlam plans.

    If Balor beats Reigns in a non-title match, with help from Cena, an irate Head of the Table would likely accept Cena's challenge out of anger. They would battle for the Universal Championship at SummerSlam. Balor would logically have the next claim to a title match by way of his victory over Reigns. A series between them, beginning at September's Extreme Rules, would carry the brand through the early portion of the fall.

    If that is the direction the company takes, it will have demonstrated the sort of expanded storytelling it has often sacrificed in the name of nearsighted goals.

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