The WWE normally holds nothing back when they bring Raw and SmackDown Live to the United Kingdom and this time around was no different. After a title change on Monday night which saw Cesaro and Sheamus crowded as the new Raw Tag Team Champions, SmackDown saw a title change of their own: A.J. Styles is once again the face that runs the place on Tuesday nights.
After months of thwarting attempts by Randy Orton and shirking Shinsuke Nakamura’s challenge to the throne, Jinder Mahal finally went down. Whether he is injured or has another issue going on behind the scenes, the cause for his loss is either explained for him, or the booking has gone haywire in an attempt to boost ratings before one of the biggest PPV’s of the year. After nearly half the year as the Modern-day Maharaja, Mahal is now the former WWE Champion.
SmackDown Live is still the House That A.J. Styles Built
The biggest news out of the wrestling world over the past handful of days is that there’s finally a new WWE Champion in town and his name is A.J. Styles. After nearly a six-month reign for Jinder Mahal, he dropped the belt to Styles for the first WWE Championship title change of hands on SmackDown since 2003.
Whether the move was a ploy to get an increased viewership due to the taping on the show in Manchester (with it not airing live back in the United States) or something is up with Mahal behind the scenes, the WWE has pushed all of their chips to the middle of the table in the hopes that a champion the fans legitimately cheer for — and is over as a babyface — will give the ratings a spike.
Next, Styles gets Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series in a dream match showdown. Mahal no longer has the chance to be the Beast Master, leaving the Phenomenal One as the next one to book his ticket to Suplex City with intentions of burning it down.
Chop blocks are bad
This next portion goes to the “Yeah, but wrestling is fake” crowd. Jey Uso damn near got his leg chop blocked off his body by Chad Gable on Tuesday in the early stages of the match that saw the SmackDown Tag Titles on the line, suffering what appears to have been a severe and real knee injury. Shelton Benjamin seemed legitimately confused by the countout win he incurred, which was the first sign that things had gone awry.
What the WWE will do with the Uso’s belts less than two weeks before Survivor Series is unknown, but they could either have them vacate the titles and allow one of SmackDown’s other teams (New Day, Gable & Benjamin, Fashion Police (!!!)) to carry the straps into the PPV. There’s also always the Roman Reigns option, since he’ll seemingly be unoccupied for an in-ring contest that night. He could be the one-night fail safe to team with his cousin, Jimmy, until a better plan gets hatched. (Roman joins Jimmy and fights Cesaro + Sheamus since Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose can’t get their hands on them; it’s more believable than you’d think.)
If there are any positives to be taken from a superstar missing potentially a year or so of his career, it’s the epic storyline that will be there when The Usos are back with Gable having been the one to take out the knee, after that was the same move The Usos unleashed on Gable during his American Alpha days.
The Manchester crowd still goes hard
There was a little bit of everything from the Manchester crowd during SmackDown Live, from popping for Aiden English, to the “Becky’s gonna kill you” chants directed at James Ellsworth.
The WWE seems to always save a little something extra for the British crowds and this time around was no different. The U.K. doesn’t often get televised programming, but when they do, their crowds know how to cash in on the opportunity.
James Ellsworth is still an able-bodied competitor
James Ellsworth and Becky Lynch had an actual match. It wasn’t anything to write home and tell your family all about, but the two did holds and actually grappled for points during the match.
Ellsworth played up the masculine card (which is hilarious, which was ultimately the point) just to get in very little actual offense. Eventually, he pleaded for Becky to stop bringing the thunder, just for her to put him out of his misery and get him to submit to the Disarmer.
There is currently no plan whatsoever moving forward for Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn
I mean, this has to be the case, right? Outside of ridiculing Shane McMahon — who takes their appearances as a side gig when he’s not too busy trying to start a brand war — the two men have no real role on the show.
Coming off the heels of Hell in A Cell, they had what appeared to be the opportunity to become the mega-heels for not just SmackDown Live, but the entire WWE. That may still be the case, but off the bat, the move has not gone swimmingly.
There still is an open spot on Team SmackDown for Survivor Series which presumably was set to be filled by A.J. Styles. Instead, he’s now the WWE Champion and the blue brand is a man short following Rusev’s loss. Owens or Zayn could be the fill-in and do what it appeared they would be doing in the first place: screwing the blue brand.