WWE
Matt Wilansky, ESPN.com 24d

SmackDown Live Recap: A simply disorienting edition of the blue brand

WWE

To label this time of year in the WWE as disorientating is like saying Aiden English has character issues. Yeah, we get it and acknowledge it, but it doesn't mean we have to like it.

On Tuesday, SmackDown Live took the next step in trying to string together three-dimensional storylines that felt oddly forced. You can thank Survivor Series and its brand-versus-brand foundation for that. This is nothing new. We've talked and written about the strange alliances and unsettling narratives for weeks. The question is whether we have to concede this is what's best for business. The image of Becky Lynch alone trying to motivate the members of her squad, both faces and heels, for the greater good of team unity couldn't seem more out of place, especially when you consider the entire SmackDown's women's roster has been at odds with each other for months.

Then there was The Usos' hating on Raw, while simultaneously listening to their next intra-brand challengers, Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin, dis and disparage the tag-team champs. How about WWE champion Jinder Mahal spewing more threats toward Brock Lesnar while tangentially ensuring AJ Styles remains a longer-term rival? Even Bobby Roode, who won a fantastic battle against Dolph Ziggler on Tuesday, tried his best to conflate the thrill of his latest victory with the "under siege" directive in a postmatch in-ring interview.

How many twofold storylines are we supposed to follow at once? It's not like we can't keep track of everything that's going on, but rather that the sheer number of jagged moving parts detracts from the overall believability. At the end of the show, I found myself asking whether there was one element that truly pushed the product forward in a cogent, constructive manner. Yes, Shane McMahon announced he would captain Team SmackDown, and for the most part, that does makes sense. The commissioner's opening promo gave us more insight into his team's invasion on Raw last week, explaining that he had to show the Monday night gang that SmackDown is anything but the inferior product so many think it is.

"So we put them under siege and kicked them right in the mouth," McMahon said, but even that decision was difficult to fully embrace because of the perceived antipathy he has toward equally popular Raw captain Kurt Angle.

You could make the argument the only truly streamlined story all night was the growing hostile nature of Sin Cara. Again, we recognize Survivor Series for what it is -- a one-off timeout from usual programming. And, yes, it's fun to watch performers who don't typically engage with each other in the ring go at it. But in doing so means those same performers have to work overtime in building feuds within their own show while working in concert with those enemies for the sake of team spirit. Hard as SmackDown tried Tuesday, at the end of the night, it was a convoluted message to send -- and for the fans to accept.

Hits and misses

  • While Shinsuke Nakamura's win against Kevin Owens was essentially a play-in game to make Team SmackDown, it felt like it could be so much more. It's true the matchup wasn't exactly on the same level as John Cena-Roman Reigns or Brock Lesnar-Braun Strowman, but Nakamura and Owens could easily main event a pay-per-view in the near future. It was great battle between two equally entertaining athletes with two completely different vibes. And considering Randy Orton and Sami Zayn both played a role in the outcome, this hardly felt like a one-and-done execution.

  • No doubt Dolph Ziggler is little more than a stepping-stone for Bobby Roode, who beat him in a two-out-of-three falls battle to also earn a spot on Team SmackDown ahead of Survivor Series. But this was far and away their best effort in the ring together. Between the superkicks, spinebusters, zig-zags, slingshots and, of course, a match-ending Glorious DDT, Ziggler and Roode had a high-end, energetic performance. Despite the loss, it was more evidence Ziggler, who has long lamented the collective disregard for his talent, should play a larger role than enhancing his opponents.

  • What is Sin Cara eating for breakfast anyway? Once again, he and Baron Corbin put on an all-out pugilistic performance better served for an octagon than a squared circle. In the end, Sin Cara beat down the United States champ so badly (while earning a disqualification), you'd thought you were watching Strowman maul James Ellsworth. Not sure what the long-term plans are for the former Lucha Dragon tag-team champ, but his tenacious side is working.

  • Predictably, AJ Styles walloped Samir Singh in less than a minute, and predictably Jinder Mahal attacked Styles afterward. The storyline, as it has been for Mahal for months, was trite, if not lazy. Styles and Mahal will have their day in the ring, albeit it won't come until after Survivor Series. Here's hoping that whatever happens not only provides fans with an exciting engagement, but also gives Mahal some new material to worth with. He's better than this.

  • It's been some time, but before Big E was a member of a New Day team that would go on to set the record for longest tag-team title reign, he was a solid singles competitor. Three years ago, he had an extended rivalry with Rusev, which included bouts at two pay-per-views. And like those matches, Tuesday night ended with the Bulgarian heel coming out on top. Still, while this was likely a one-off, filler-time match, it seems like the timing could be right for Big E to break free from his cohorts and make another run at singles relevancy. He is, after all, a one-time intercontinental champ.

  • Here's where we stand so far in the main event of Survivor Series: Team Raw will have captain Kurt Angle and Braun Strowman, with three performers to be named in the upcoming weeks against SmackDown captain Shane McMahon, Randy Orton, Bobby Roode and Shinsuke Nakamura, with one remaining opening. Can anyone else see this one coming down to Shane O'Mac against Angle for brand supremacy?

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