- We're 48 hours removed from Battleground, the last "Network Special" of a bygone era (the "reality" era) as we move forward with Brand Extension Era V.2. You can read about Battleground elsewhere, but before we get to the 1st Smackdown Live of the NEW Era, how about that episode of Monday Night Raw last night? I've only been able to watch the edited down Hulu version (cutting out all the nonsense with Golden Truth playing Pokemon Go, among other filler stuff), but wow, probably the best episode of Raw in a long, long time. First, the immediate push of Finn Balor to make him a big-time player. Pinning Rusev isn't something to really brag about, but going over Roman Reigns, clean, to earn a spot for the newly created UNIVERSAL Championship is definitely a move that shows they have serious intent behind making him a big deal. Second, the surprising decision to move up the big title match between Sasha Banks and Charlotte. It was easily the match of the night, the best women's match since Bayley vs. Sasha at Takeover: Brooklyn in my opinion, and a great feel good moment for Banks, who you can tell was genuinely moved by the decision to give her the belt. Second and a half, who didn't love the Eddie homage when Sasha fooled the referee into ejecting Dana Brooke from ringside? With four big matches, ranging from ***-**** across the board, Smackdown has a big mountain to climb to meet the expectations.
- LIVE from the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY, with Mauro Ranallo, John "Bradshaw" Layfield, and David Otunga calling all the action, unless otherwise noted. Maybe Ranallo can make JBL a good color commentator again, after several years of JBL and Cole bringing the worst out of each other.
- Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan welcome us to a NEW Era of Smackdown (Live), with the ring surrounded with the Smackdown (Live) roster. We find out the first Smackdown EXCLUSIVE Pay-Per-View will be on September 11th, titled Backlash. We need to determine a #1 Contender for Dean Ambrose's WWE Championship at SummerSlam. The solution: a Six-Pack Challenge. The participants will be "The Face That Runs the Place" John Cena, "The Eater of Worlds" Bray Wyatt, "The Showoff" Dolph Ziggler, "The Lone Wolf" Baron Corbin, "The Phenomenal" A.J. Styles, and the 6th spot is available to the winner of a Battle Royal. For a second I thought Bryan had goofed up.
- Shelton Benjamin is coming to Smackdown Live! That certainly perked me up.
- Dolph Ziggler with a taped promo about "losing his way" and finding himself again for the NEW Era. A heel-turn and/or considerable revamping of his character will do more than a "I know I'm losing a lot lately" promo.
- Becky Lynch's post-match interview is interrupted by Alexa Bliss. Her promo is quickly cut-off by Naomi, who has been missing from TV for a few months. I guess she's turned back to being a babyface since we've last seen her. Then she's interrupted by the debut of Carmella and I'm not sure if the fans know (or care) who she is based on the cold reception to her standard mic work. Then Eva Marie interrupts her promo and the crowd remembers they don't like her. She actually gets some goofy voice-over work for her entrance, as if she's at the Emmy or Academy Awards. Yeah, the division is pretty damn weak on quality works when it comes to the Smackdown side.
- Baron Corbin's promo is about winning for himself and not for anyone else.
- Miz TV, with the WWE Intercontinental Champion the Miz and Maryse. For the "brand" that is all about the wrestling, they've put a lot of effort into as little wrestling as possible for the first hour. I understand that you need to set the ground work to go forward, but man, that Six-Pack Challenge better kick major ass. Tonight, the guest on Miz TV is... The Miz. I'm pretty sure he's done this multiple times. He actually switches seats depending on if he's asking or answering the question. Randy Orton quickly interrupts, and I'm betting he gives Miz an "RKO out of nowhere." Orton wants a match tonight, against the Miz. Miz turns it down, but then Orton questions his manhood, so Maryse accepts the challenge on his behalf.
- Hype Video for American Alpha's Chad Gable and Jason Jordan. Since they aren't being featured in a match this week, at least acknowledging their existence is a step in the right direction. They make their in-ring debut on Smackdown Live... NEXT WEEK.
- Some local competitor is warming up in the ring until THE HOTTEST FRE AGENT IN WRESTLING, Heath Slater, knocks him silly and cuts a promo whining about not being drafted to either Raw or Smackdown. He suggests making tonight's Main Event a "Magnificent Seven-Pack Challenge." He starts a "Sign Heath Slater" chant, and the crowd actually picks it up! He takes credit for the Nexus, the Corre, 3MB, and the Social Outcasts. Suddenly Rhyno makes an appearance from out of nowhere and lays Slater out with a GORE~! So... who gets to destroy Slater on Monday Night Raw next week?
- A.J. Styles cuts a promo questioning why "power hungry" authority figures Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan didn't pick the rest of the Club. He's going to beat up on everyone tonight, but especially, #BeatUpJohnCena.
We return from the final break with a pair of Tower of Doom spots that clears out Cena, Wyatt, Ziggler, and Styles. Corbin and Crews exchange blows until Corbin catches him off the ropes with Deep Six for a near fall. Corbin escapes End of Says and plants him with a Spinning Powerbomb. Wyatt pulls the referee out of the ring to break the count, does his Spider-Walk, creeping Crews out, and hits him with Sister Abigail. Ziggler in from behind with the Zig-Zag, but the referee isn't available. Ziggler tunes up the band and runs into an Attitude Adjustment. Cena escapes Sister Abigail and sends Wyatt into a Pele Kick. Attitude Adjustment to Styles only gets two. Cena catches Crews going for a flying body press and hits the Attitude Adjustment. Wyatt in and he gets an Attitude Adjustment. Corbin fights free on the first go around, but Cena connects on the second attempt. Styles with a Phenomenal Forearm on Cena. Ziggler with a Super-Kick on Styles... for three at 9:24 (minus two commercial breaks)!? Well that was a bit of a surprise, not just the winner, but who took the fall. **1/2 The two commercial breaks really hurt the pacing of the match, but the finishing sequence was pretty good. Why not do the split-screen action during the commercial break like they did last week for a meaningless match between Cena and Luke Gallows?
- Dean Ambrose makes his way to the ring to have a stare-down with Ziggler and show off the prize as the 1st Smackdown Live of the New Era comes to an end.
Final Thoughts: Compared to Monday Night Raw, this could easily be considered a let-down... but is that honestly a bad thing? Before we complain too much about the lack of wrestling and over-emphasis on talking segments, it seems like next week's episode of Smackdown has clearly been built upon while Monday Night Raw, even though it featured four really good-great matches, blew through a lot of a main event material and might fall into a familiar pattern of rehashing matches and scenarios to fill time until SummerSlam. Smackdown gave us a big main event without giving away a high profile singles match, introduced us to some new faces, and has me wanting to see more. I'll give overall quality of show to Raw based on the wrestling, but I don't think Smackdown was a failure, and I'm looking forward to the "debut" of American Alpha next week.