DANIEL BRYAN OPENS THE SHOW

The show opens with a Daniel Bryan promo in which he says he will be the WWE Champion, but he gets interrupted by Big Cass. Cass takes umbrage with the fact that Renee Young called Bryan’s loss to Rusev his “first major setback” since returning when Cass believes that his beatdown on Bryan at BackLash set the stage for that loss. Cass goes on to disparage Bryan’s success at the Greatest Royal Rumble and continues to draw some cheap heat by insulting the purest babyface in the company. Eventually, Bryan decides he’s had enough and attacks Big Cass, focusing on Cass’s recently injured knee, sending Cass limping back to the locker room.

This was interesting to me because, while Big Cass clearly prompted the attack by insulting and taunting Daniel Bryan for a solid 10 minutes, the nature of Bryan’s attack felt very heel-ish. He looked like he lost control and unloaded on a semi-defenseless Big Cass. There was even a point where it looked like he was done but he went back to continue assaulting Cass’s knee. Essentially, Bryan came out of this looking a little less like the virtuous hero he is normally booked as.

Speaking of Daniel Bryan’s booking since his return, much has been made about the direction that creative is going with him. Lots of people on the Internet seem to have written Bryan off as a midcarder after his first couple of feuds, but I think those people are missing the bigger picture. He was never going to jump right back into the WWE Title picture, a character like his needs to build for a while before that. Daniel Bryan’s title shot will come, it just might take some time while they make him look like an underdog again, instead of the world-beating superhero many people seem to want him to be.

MEN’S MITB QUALIFIER

The Miz joins the commentary for this match, which features two feuding tag teams facing off in a Money in the Bank qualifier match with the stipulation that the winning team gets to send one member of their choice to the MITB match. These two teams have been locked in a pretty enjoyable feud since The Bar came over to SmackDown Live; most recently Xavier Woods split singles matches with both members of The Bar the last two weeks on SmackDown. The match itself features some pretty good tag team work, punctuated by Big E’s spear through the ropes to take out Seamus which let Xavier Woods hit a tightrope elbow drop onto Cesaro for the win.

The winners did not name a representative right away, so the question now is which member of The New Day will show up at the MitB match. There is a case to be made for each member: Kofi Kingston is an extraordinary high-flyer who is always fun in ladder matches, Big E is huge and seems primed for a significant singles push, and Xavier Woods has been featured more than the other two on tv lately and has looked like the best member of the team. For now, my money is on Woods because of how creative has booked him the last couple of weeks. Historically, he’s been The New Day’s weak link, but this could be his time to shine.

The New Day def The Bar via pinfall

EL IDOLO DEBUTS

Former NXT champion Andrade “Cien” Almas makes his long-awaited debut on SmackDown in a squash match against some random jobber whose name is not even mentioned. Almas makes quick work of this guy with his signature hammerlock DDT. After the match, Almas’s manager Zelina Vega grabs a mic and puts SmackDown on notice. Watch out for El Idolo. Fans should be excited about Almas, who already has a 5-star match in NXT under his belt. Personally, I’m really hoping to see him go against Daniel Bryan sometime in the future, as their styles should mesh very nicely.

Andrade “Cien” Almas def rando jobber via pinfall

A ROYAL MELLABRATION

SmackDown Women’s Champion Carmella continues her Mellabration Tour in London this week with an entrance fit for a queen. She comes out and basically just blasts every other woman in the division until she is interrupted by SmackDown General Manager Paige, who says she is here to announce Carmella’s opponent at MITB: Asuka. Cue “Asuka’s gonna kill you” chants and Carmella immediately exits the ring with her tail between her legs.

Asuka’s stock has dropped heavily since her loss to Charlotte at WrestleMania and then Charlotte’s subsequent losses to Carmella, but a title victory at the next PPV would be a great way to get her back on track. Champ Mella has been fun, but it was never going to last forever and, barring some interference from the IIconics or someone else, Asuka should leave Chicago with the belt.

WOMEN’S MITB QUALIFIER

The fourth spot in the Women’s MitB match is up for grabs as former Absolution members Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose are pitted in a Triple Threat with Becky Lynch. Rose and Deville work together early but the realization that only one of them will be able to go to the PPV soon dawns on them and it becomes more of a true Triple Threat. As the match progresses, the former teammates take turns beating up on Lynch and trying to steal the pin from each other, but to no avail. Lynch is the constant in this match as the other two essentially take turns rolling out of the ring and then diving back in at opportune times to fight until Lynch finally gets Rose to tap to the Dis-Arm-Her.

Becky Lynch def Mandy Rose via pinfall.

AJ STYLES VS SHINSUKE NAKAMURA

Earlier in the show, it was announced that the winner of this match would choose the stipulation for their match at Money in the Bank. A tense duel on the apron leads to a near fall for Nakamura, who looked to control much of this match. Not long after, the ref goes down and Nakamura acts like AJ Styles hit him with one of the low blows that have become the trademark of this feud. This leads Styles to argue with the ref which gives Nakamura enough time to sucker punch him and set him up for the Kinshasa.

This was yet another good match in this feud marred by its finish and this weird obsession with “low blows”. At this point, all I’m hoping for is a match between these two with a clean finish, but that just seems like such a pipe dream at this point. Time and time again they’ve shown that they are more than capable of putting on a very good match, but they keep teasing us with these weird finishes, ostensibly to draw heat on Nakamura and build the feud, but at some point, there has to be some payoff. Honestly, this feud has probably suffered more than any other from WWE’s insane PPV schedule over the last month and a half, as three title matches in such a short span may have forced them to delay what seems to be an inevitable title change.

Shinsuke Nakamura def AJ Styles via pinfall

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Austin Pagel

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