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    Credit: WWE.com

    Friday night on Fox, WWE continues its march to SummerSlam with a stacked episode of SmackDown, headlined by an unpredictable confrontation between Universal Champion Braun Strowman and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt. 

    Speaking of The Fiend, Alexa Bliss will address her dealings with the masked monster of WWE.

    Might we finally find out exactly what happened to her in the week between them and what long-term effects she may have from the terrorizing encounters?

    Throw in a tri-brand battle royal to determine the No. 1 contender to the SmackDown Women’s Championship and Big E‘s latest chance to prove he can make it as a singles star and you have a broadcast with a great sense of urgency as it approaches one of the company’s most prestigious pay-per-view extravaganzas. 

    Find out everything that went down, how it affected the Superstars involved and what it means for the ongoing storylines with this recap of the August 14 broadcast.

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Already announced for Friday night’s broadcast are:

  • A monstrous confrontation between Universal Champion Braun Strowman and The Fiend
  • Alexa Bliss discusses her encounters with The Fiend
  • A tri-brand Battle Royal to determine SmackDown Women’s Champion Bayley’s SummerSlam opponent
  • Big E vs. John Morrison

Most intriguing is the battle royal featuring stars from Raw, SmackDown and NXT.

Is this an opportunity for someone from Raw, like Shayna Baszler, to get a shot at the blue brand title on PPV without actually being on that show? Might it be the chance to call up a talent from NXT to battle Bayley?

Whatever the case may be, expect the unexpected and a potential surprise or two as we find out who the longest-reigning champion in WWE will defend against at the Biggest Party of the Summer.

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    Credit: WWE

    Big E sought to continue his winning ways in singles competition as he battled John Morrison in the night’s opening contest.

    Before the match could get started, Retribution attacked. They beat down Big E, taking his knee out from under him, and left Morrison lying in a heap. As quickly as they arrived, they departed, leaving Miz to rush the ringside area and check on tag team partner Morrison.

    After the break, the locker room gathered. After Morrison blamed Big E’s tweeting for incurring the wrath of Retribution. King Corbin arrived and teased that he would take leadership of the SmackDown locker room.

    Big E shut him up and rallied the troops before Sheamus arrived, apparently sporting a new look.

    The Celtic Warrior claimed Retribution would never interfere in his match because they are afraid of him. Big E talked back to Sheamus, unimpressed, and left with the rest of the Superstars.

    Grade

    A

    Analysis

    This was a great way to follow up the conclusion of last week’s show.

    For those who only watch SmackDown, it immediately answered the question, “what’s next for Retribution” while setting Big E up as the locker room leader.

    Speaking of Big E, he put himself in the crosshairs of Corbin and Sheamus, two potential feuds going forward. A segment of the show that accomplishes all of that within the first 15 minutes is always a success.

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    Credit: WWE

    A promo by Bayley and Sasha Banks gave way to the Raw, SmackDown and Women’s Tag Team Champions serving as special guest ring announcers for the Tri-Branded Battle Royal to determine the No. 1 contender to the former’s title.

    Contestants included The IIconics’ Billie Kay and Peyton Royce, NXT’s Shotzi Blackheart and Tegan Nox, Lacey Evans, Naomi, Liv Morgan, Ruby Riott, Shayna Baszler, Bianca Belair, Nikki Cross, Dana Brooke and Tamina Snuka.

    The eliminations came fast and furious early, leading to a ringside brawl between Riott, Morgan and The IIconics. Moments later, Tamina eliminated Cross in a bit of a surprise. Snuka came face-to-face with Belair in a showdown of powerhouses. The EST got the best of that exchange, delivering a spear and eliminating her.

    Naomi and Evans resumed their rivalry, the latter getting the best of her foe with the Woman’s Right. Blackheart dumped her. Baszler applied the Karifuji Clutch to Shotzi and Evans pulled her to the floor. Belair’s own momentum cost her as Nox sent her to the floor. The NXT star fired off on both Asuka and Baszler, looking for the improbable win. 

    Brooke, never eliminated earlier in the match, dragged Nox over the top and to the floor before joining Baszler and Asuka. Her run was short-lived as The Empress of Tomorrow sent her packing. The Queen of Spades teed off on Asuka with a nasty kick but the former Raw champ fended off elimination by standing on the fallen bodies of Bayley and Banks.

    Asuka eventually eliminated Baszler to win the match and title shot.

    Result

    Asuka won the battle royal, last eliminating Baszler

    Grade

    C-

    Analysis

    This was not a particularly good match, but neither are most battle royals.

    The booking was interesting, to say the least. Did we really have to see Asuka get another title match despite already having one against Sasha Banks? Why even include Baszler and threaten to hurt her credibility in a match like this when they could have used Snuka in the same spot?

    Ditto Belair, who is not over enough with the main roster audience to just sacrifice her momentum in a meaningless battle royal.

    This did nothing to help anyone not already involved in the women’s title picture and given the sheer number of talented competitors involved, that is the biggest indictment on this entire ordeal.

    But hey, Bayley and Banks were awesome as the insufferable ring announcers, so there’s that.

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    Credit: WWE

    After a surprise return, and intense brawl with former friend and tag team partner Sonya Deville, Mandy Rose addressed the WWE Universe.

    She reminded The Pride Fighter that she may have been a bikini model, but she worked three jobs at the same time she was winning competitions. She may have entered Tough Enough, but so did Deville and she busted her ass to make it to WWE.

    Making her ugly doesn’t scare her. So much so that she challenged Deville to a Hair vs. Hair Match at SummerSlam and called her former friend’s bluff.

    Grade

    A

    Analysis

    If you had suggested late last year that Rose would be able to cut that sort of intense promo, and get over the raw emotion of her feud with Deville, you would have been laughed out of the room.

    Now, after the excellence of their rivalry to this point, it is yet another instance of those involved delivering performances that enhance the material rather than the other way around.

    Rose was great here and if she could find it within herself to cut that promo on a consistent basis, and back it up between the ropes, she would easily become that breakout star WWE has hoped she would be from the moment they signed her fresh out of Tough Enough.

    The Rose-Deville rivalry is the best story in WWE right now and promos like this are why.

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    Credit: WWE

    A week after costing Sheamus a victory over Matt Riddle and paying dearly for it, Shorty G battled The Celtic Warrior in singles competition.

    The former Olympian frustrated his opponent early, attempting to ground him. A big ax handle to the face slowed his momentum and the Irish Curse downed the artist formerly known as Chad Gable.

    Shorty G recovered and applied an ankle lock, then nearly scored the pinfall off a rollup.

    Sheamus delivered White Noise to halt his opponent’s roll and put him away with the Brogue Kick for the win.

    Result

    Sheamus defeated Shorty G

    Grade

    C-

    Analysis

    So, is Shorty G a heel or a babyface?

    Two weeks ago, he was a villain but in this one, he was very clearly the babyface. 

    Is he still aligned with King Corbin? Does he have a vendetta against Riddle?

    Does anyone care?

    We should. He’s a hell of a professional wrestler with a gimmick even eight-year-olds would find silly and outdated. Fix it, WWE Creative, because you are single-handedly wasting the athletic prime of a wrestler who should be far more important to the product than he currently is.

    Sheamus winning is…meh, if only because he appears to be mostly directionless following the conclusion of his feud with Jeff Hardy.

    Update: After helping distract Matt Riddle so King Corbin could attack from behind, he’s still a heel. At least for this week.

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    Credit: WWE

    AJ Styles, accompanied by the great Joseph Park (Google him), made his way to the ring and introduced the Phenomenal Intercontinental Statistic System (yes, P.I.S.S.) in an attempt to determine his top contender.

    After revealing his own name as the only on the list, he condescendingly challenged the locker room to work hard. Jeff Hardy interrupted, remarked on how important the Intercontinental Championship is to him and formally issued a challenge for a match against Styles for it. 

    Styles feigned sincerity while addressing Hardy before denying the request.

    Hardy unloaded on Styles and sent him scurrying to the floor before writing his own name on the list.

    Grade

    C

    Analysis

    WWE has a long history of completely and unnecessarily overthinking stories.

    This was yet another example of it.

    Was it too hard to book “wrestler A has belt; wrestler B wants belt; they will wrestle?” Apparently, because WWE went through this convoluted segment that introduced statistics, featured a cameo from Joseph Park/Abyss and did not add anything to what could have been a much less convoluted segment.

    Hardy vs. Styles will likely rule and, more importantly, appeals to wrestling fans who may have watched a decade ago but tuned out recently. Both are recognizable faces and have track records of stealing shows.

    It is just a shame they don’t have a stronger (or more lucid) story supporting them as they figure to square off on August 23 at SummerSlam.

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    Credit: WWE

    As Lucha House Party eyes the SmackDown Tag Team Championships, Gran Metalik battled Shinsuke Nakamura while Lince Dorado and Cesaro watched from ringside.

    Metalik used his high-flying offense to thwart the early success of Nakamura, keeping The Artist guessing as to where he might soar in from next.

    A momentary distraction by Cesaro allowed Nakamura to catch his opponent with a kick to the chest. It earned him a two-count.

    Midway through the bout, Kalisto made his return, dropping Cesaro with a tornado DDT on the ramp. Back inside, Metalik scored a top-rope elbow for the upset win.

    Result

    Metalik defeated Nakamura

    Grade

    C

    Analysis

    WWE has a lot of work to do in terms of convincing its fans of Lucha House Party’s credibility, particularly after it has spent the last two years presenting them as glorified enhancement talent.

    Metalik’s IC Championship Match with AJ Styles a few weeks ago was evidence that, even in the midst of a great match, it is hard to truly invest one’s self because you never really believe that guy has a chance in hell of beating Styles.

    Ditto Kalisto or Dorado.

    Kalisto’s return would have meant more if he was a bigger deal before injury took him from the ring.

    With all of that said, the trio finds itself in the midst of its most consistent streak of television time in many months so one can hope they convince those in power to continue using them. They are, after all, far too talented to sit on the sidelines.

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    Credit: WWE

    Alexa Bliss sat down for an exclusive interview and addressed her friendship with Braun Strowman, complete with footage from social media and the Mixed Match Challenge. 

    The interviewer asked about a more personal relationship and whether that is why The Fiend targeted her. Bliss insinuated that, being in The Fiend’s presence, she could feel him. She understands the phrase “a moth to a flame.”

    The interviewer asked Bliss what she felt about Strowman’s claim that he “doesn’t give a damn about Alexa.” Emotion overcame her as we headed to break.

    Grade

    A

    Analysis

    Apparently, Bliss and Strowman are so close that she would contemplate a romantic relationship with him. While there have been hints and reminders of their friendship over the years, there was never any indication of anything more than that.

    Conveniently enough, until now.

    Then Bliss appeared completely compelled by whatever connection she formed with The Fiend during her time in his presence. That, more than anything else in this segment, is what bears watching leading into SummerSlam.

    Finally, the cliffhanger re: the emotional hurt incurred by Bliss after Strowman’s words a week earlier further hints at Bliss’ potential interference in the Universal Championship Match at SummerSlam. Might she help The Fiend?

    That we are asking that question means this latest wrinkle is working and has elevated the program exponentially.

    This was the character stuff Bliss has always been great at and this was no exception.

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    Credit: WWE

    Sonya Deville responded to Mandy Rose’s challenge for a Hair vs. Hair Match at SummerSlam. “Who would have known it would take a little haircut to get some aggression out of you,” she taunted Rose. She vowed to destroy Rose, once and for all, at SummerSlam. “See you soon, baldy,” she concluded.

    We headed to the ring for Big E vs. John Morrison in the match that was supposed to go down earlier in the night.

    Morrison targeted the knee of his opponent, capitalizing on a distraction by The Miz. The lights flickered heading into the break and when they returned, the roster had surrounded the ring. With the wrestlers in the arena, Retribution attacked referees and crew members backstage, assaulting and humiliating them.

    Referee Jessika Carr alerted the Superstars while Morrison and Big E continued their match.

    Big E finally fought his way back into the match and applied the Stretch Muffler to force a submission. 

    Sheamus attacked the victor with a Brogue Kick, just in time for Braun Strowman to pop up and Michael Cole to throw to another break.

    Result

    Big E defeated Morrison

    Grade

    C-

    Analysis

    While it was nice to see Retribution booked to look smart and cunning rather than mindless anarchists by outsmarting the roster, there was so much going on here and most of it was at the detriment of Big E.

    We know Big E is in the midst of this big singles push, but he was overshadowed by the invaders, then by Sheamus and, finally, by Strowman. He was an afterthought in a match that should have propelled him forward but instead, left him a bit player in a larger segment.

    This just didn’t work, even if Big E earned the win.

    Deville accepting Rose’s challenge sets up the final chapter of a rivalry that has been SmackDown’s most consistent.

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    Credit: WWE

    Braun Strowman returned to SmackDown, more enraged and deranged than ever before.

    Growling with every word, he demanded The Fiend’s presence. Instead, Alexa Bliss joined him, demanding him to snap out of whatever mindset he was in. Instead, Strowman accused Bliss of mocking him and using him for her own benefit.

    She tried to slap some sense into the Universal Champion but Strowman hoisted her overhead in a gorilla press, threatening to slam her until The Fiend appeared.

    He did, joining Bliss in the ring but realizing Strowman was nowhere to be found. Braun appeared on the video screen, laughing hysterically, then screaming. The Fiend joined him in laughing before the “let me in” bumper aired to close the show.

    Grade

    A

    Analysis

    Strowman’s slow transformation into a monster in demeanor, rather than name, has been fantastically executed. Fans already know, based on previously established story, that The Fiend has harsh effects on anyone he encounters. Finn Balor and Seth Rollins underwent character transformations. John Cena has not been seen since WrestleMania.

    Strowman resisted, initially, but after Extreme Rules, has become a darker and more dangerous version of himself. One immune to the friendship of Bliss and even willing to risk her well-being if it means getting the attention of The Fiend.

    And therein lies the interesting developments with this story.

    Coupled with Bliss seemingly expressing intrigue in The Fiend earlier in the show, The Fiend coming to her aid may very well be a facade concocted by Bliss and Strowman to lure Bray Wyatt’s alter ego into a trap.

    Bliss turning and aligning with The Fiend is the most intriguing outcome, though, her turn to the dark side complete.

    It would be in-line with The Fiend’s effects and give the decorated competitor a wholly new persona to embrace going forward.

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