0 of 7
On the eve of Independence Day, Drew Gulak sought to prove he was not dependent upon Daniel Bryan to score the biggest win of his career as he challenged AJ Styles for the Intercontinental Championship on WWE SmackDown.
The title clash between the mat marvels headlined a broadcast that also featured Sheamus’ toast to Jeff Hardy and an exclusive interview with Matt Riddle, conducted by Michael Cole.
With Extreme Rules rapidly approaching, what else went down Friday night on Fox as the stars of the blue brand jockey for position ahead of the “Horror Show?”
Find out with this recap of the July 3 episode.
1 of 7
Michael Cole introduced the WWE Universe to Matt Riddle, referring to him as the “Original King of Bros.” Corey Graves threw to a recap of Riddle’s debut on SmackDown, including his non-title victory over Intercontinental Champion AJ Styles.
Riddle joked that he likes Styles more than Styles likes him. Cole asked about the flip flops and Riddle told a convoluted story about frostbite and not being able to feel his feet, so now he refuses to wear shoes. Or something like that.
King Corbin interrupted the proceedings to a chorus of boos, unamused by the bro.
Corbin said no one likes Riddle and no one wants him there so he’s going to make sure the newcomer pays for it. The king said Riddle needs to be ready for a match at any time and that he needs someone to slap him around.
He introduced John Morrison who, alongside The Miz, made his way to the ring for the night’s opening bout.
Riddle’s promo about frostbite and his feet was as painfully contrived as you could possibly have imagined. Even if it is the truth, it came across as so forced and unbelievable that it would have been more effective if he had just admitted to liking flip flops better.
Throw in the same old, same old from Corbin and his sudden ability to make whatever match he wants despite having no real power on SmackDown so to speak of and you have a massively ineffective opening promo segment that did nothing to help anyone and even managed to expose Riddle on the mic.
Not a great start to the show, but at least we can only go up from here.
Update: Cole asked about the match-making after the break. Still no real explanation to speak of except vague “connections.”
2 of 7
Morrison caught Riddle with a hellish open-hand chop to the chest that stunned the babyface and allowed the former intercontinental, tag team and ECW champion to ground his opponent. A corkscrew plancha earned Morrison a strong near-fall as the commentary team put over the beauty of the move.
A running knee continued Morrison’s dominance but a two-count resulted in obvious frustration on the part of the veteran heel. “We know he can take a beating. Congratulations,” an unimpressed King Corbin said on commentary, in reference to his newfound rival Riddle.
A fisherman buster allowed the Original Bro to create separation. He infuriated Corbin, blasting him with a flip flop heading into the break.
Back from the timeout, Riddle dropped Morrison with Bro To Sleep, followed by a German suplex for a two. The Floating Bro was met with Morrison’s knees to the back. A helicopter Razor’s Edge by Morrison dropped Riddle, who answered with the Bromission.
Morrison fought out and delivered a middle-rope Spanish Fly for a near-fall as the commentary team touted Riddle’s resiliency.
A distraction by Corbin nearly cost Riddle but the bro caught Morrison with a rollup for the win. As the victor made his way up the ramp, AJ Styles attacked from behind, only for Drew Gulak to the make the save heading to another timeout.
Riddle defeated Morrison
It could have done without the Corbin distraction finish but this was a damn fun match that showcased some serious in-ring chemistry between Riddle and Morrison. They creativity and the fresh spots within helped elevate this one beyond your typical television match. Not that anyone should be surprised; Morrison is one of the most creative and engaging performers in the company.
One can only hope his breakup with Miz comes sooner than later because that guy should be stealing the show in meaningful matches every week.
The Riddle-Corbin feud isn’t one that lights the world on fire but Styles’ attack after the match would seem to suggest that feud is still very much the endgame here.
When that match comes, preferably on PPV, it will be a show-stealer and, possibly, a Match of the Year candidate.
3 of 7
An aggressive, focused Intercontinental Champion AJ Styles wore Drew Gulak out early with a series of strikes and face rakes. He withstood a victory roll attempt and continued to punish the challenger.
Twisting Gulak’s knee around the bottom rope, Styles stomped on it, looking to take the base away from his opponent. In a nice touch, Daniel Bryan joined the show via Zoom to discuss coach Gulak’s performance. Styles fended off a comeback attempt heading into the break.
A wicked brainbuster put Gulak down for two. Despite Bryan insisting Gulak was the one Superstar on the roster more technically sound than him, Styles continued to dominate the one-sided match. That is, until the challenger dumped Styles face-first into the top turnbuckle and fired off a series of dropkicks that stunned the champ. A Michinoku Driver followed as Gulak earned his first near-fall of the bout.
Shaking off the onslaught of his opponent, The Phenomenal One delivered a Styles Clash but refused to follow up with the pinfall. Looking to make a statement, finished Gulak with an emphatic Phenomenal Forearm for the definitive victory.
Styles defeated Gulak
For a match that was prominently featured and hyped heading into the show, this was surprisingly uncompetitive.
Yeah, Gulak had a brief flurry late in the match but this was all Styles otherwise. We already know how great Styles is, so that was hardly a worthwhile takeaway.
What was, though, was the inclusion of Bryan via Zoom. With the technological advancements, and the ability to integrate social media into the product, there is no better time to do so than now. With no fans and a rather stale presentation as it is, use Zoom or Instagram or Facebook to help add to the product.
If Bryan’s contributions here were any indication, it is a concept that could enhance the product exponentially and freshen things up, if nothing else.
4 of 7
Women’s Tag Team Champions Bayley and Sasha Banks made their way to the ring and wasted little time touting their presence across all brands and their recent success heading into Extreme Rules.
Bayley took it a step further, claiming The Undertaker reached out to them and praised them for their efforts of late. She went as far as to claim he thought WWE should have a tribute for them. She threw to the video as the crowd heavily booed the champions.
Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross interrupted the exercise in vanity, much to the delight of Michael Cole on commentary.
Cross claimed that if she puts her heart into it, she knows she can win the SmackDown Women’s Championship at Extreme Rules. After Cross slapped Bayley, Banks accepted a match on her partner’s behalf, setting up Bayley vs. Bliss.
Just in case you have not been paying attention, Banks and Bayley have been the best thing about WWE television this summer and legitimate MVPs of the last month of Raw and SmackDown. The video package they aired, hyping themselves up, was some grade-A heel work.
Had they aired that in front of an arena full of fans, it would have earned them a considerable amount of heat.
As it is, it further established them as the egotistical pairing that fans will eventually be all-too-eager to see shut up by a pair of popular babyfaces.
5 of 7
Alexa Bliss sought to ruin the 266th day of Bayley’s SmackDown Women’s Championship reign, taking the fight to her coming out of the break. She succeeded early but Bayley seized control, wearing Bliss down and reminding everyone why she has been champion for such a long period of time.
A hard right hand by Bliss allowed her to create some separation but Bayley cut her off, slamming her arm into the ring apron.
Sasha Banks interfered as the official was distracted by Nikki Cross and the match descended into chaos.
Cross hit the ring, clearing it of the heels and leaving Bayley and Banks to clutch their gold, realizing the Scot poses a very real threat to the former’s title reign.
Bayley defeated Bliss via DQ
The match itself was nothing special as Bayley dominated and Bliss never really got to have the spirited comeback one would have hoped for given the story told throughout it.
The babyfaces standing tall was the right call as it gives them a bit of momentum while Bayley and Banks continue to steal the shows they appear on thanks to their renewed and rejuvenated dedication to their craft. They are motivated, hungry to be the best and the result is some of the best work of either woman’s career.
6 of 7
As the rivalry between The New Day and Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura continues, former WWE champion Kofi Kingston battled Shinsuke Nakamura in singles competition. The aforementioned Cesaro and Big E watched their respective partner’s back at ringside.
Not wasting any time, Kingston attacked his opponent from the opening bell, negating Nakamura’s striking ability in the process. As Big E and Cesaro made their presences felt, referee Jessika Carr sent them packing, ensuring the better man would emerge from the match victoriously.
Nakamura controlled coming out of the break. Kingston fought out from underneath, elbowing out of a sleeper and delivering a dropkick to down The Artist.
Kingston whiffed on Trouble in Paradise and Nakamura answered with a kick of his own for a near-fall. The SOS by Kingston for a count of two. A double stomp by Kingston earned him another two-count.
Nakamura recovered and delivered the Kinshasa for the hard-fought victory as both him and Cesaro continue their sudden winning ways.
Nakamura defeated Kingston
This was a fairly solid match that earned Nakamura and Cesaro some much-needed momentum. From that perspective, it worked and should help to continue the steady build of heat for the impending tag team title match.
Of interest, though, was the concentrated effort by the commentary team not to mention Kingston was a former WWE champion.
There was literally a portion of the match where Corey Graves and Michael Cole ran down the accomplishments of both men, even suggesting Kingston was the underdog because of Nakamura’s history of challenging for titles and winning the Royal Rumble.
Kingston, just one year ago, was at the top of the industry yet that was conpletely and conveniently forgotten to help get WWE’s story over.
Shame on the company for sweeping the accomplishment under the carpet when it was such an industry-defining, feel-good moment.
Just to really force the idea of Nakamura being the favorite to win the match.
Why not just hype the heel’s recent winning streak instead?
7 of 7
Jeff Hardy hit the ring, which was filled with a portable bar, for the night’s main event promo segment.
Sheamus was nowhere to be found, instead appearing via satellite from his home.
The Celtic Warrior spent yet another week taunted and humiliating Hardy by bringing up his past additions, all while Hardy asked what the purpose of this “toast” was.
Just when Sheamus thought he had encouraged Hardy to revert to his old ways, Jeff broke a champagne glass over the Irishman’s personal bartender Geeves and delivered a Swanton Bomb to close out the show.
For what reason did this have to be on the show, let alone in the main event segment?
We get it, Hardy has a controversial past attributed to addiction and alcoholism. If we didn’t, Sheamus reminds us every freaking week.
This did absolutely nothing to advance the storyline, nor did it enhance it in any measurable way.
It was, essentially, a waste of a segment that could have been scrapped in the name of something that actually meant something to this or any other feud on the show.
A disappointing end to a damn good broadcast.