With Money in the Bank still more than a month away, you can forgive the WWE for not overstuffing its lead-up shows with too much at one time.
On Tuesday night, SmackDown Live put on another solid show -- perhaps not spectacular, but one that accomplished a fair bit without trying to do too much. There were world title implications, and we'll get those momentarily, but the biggest winner of the night, ironically, may well have been someone who has down a more than her fair share of losing lately as Money in the Bank qualifiers continued.
Becky Lynch took down Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose to earn the fourth spot in the upcoming women's Money in the Bank ladder match. Lynch was seemingly all but forgotten in recent months, taking the fall on numerous occasions as the way to build up villains on their way to Charlotte Flair and the SmackDown women's championship. Whatever the reason for this sudden reversal -- perhaps because the show took place at the O2 Arena in London, close to Becky's home country of Ireland? -- she is as close as she's been to the SmackDown's women championship picture as she's been in a long time. In 2016, Becky became the inaugural champ on the blue brand.
But before we delve too deeply into speculating what's in store for Becky -- the only performer outside of one to-be-determined member of the New Day who earned a spot in MITB on Tuesday -- we'd be remiss in not recognizing a sensational match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura. About time, right?
By now, it was overdue. After a decent match at WrestleMania, Styles and Nakamura have flashed great moments in subsequent matches but they have ended inconclusively time and time again. That changed Tuesday.
Granted, this wasn't for the WWE championship; the winner would earn the right to choose a stipulation when they meet for a fifth time, at Money in the Bank, with the WWE championship on the line once more. Win or lose, we just wanted a collision worthy of two greats. And what do you know -- with a solid narrative and definitive creative finish, that's exactly what we got.
In front of a rowdy London crowd, which shouted its approval with alacrity, Styles and Nakamura were each aggressive and concentrated more on putting on a good show than the histrionics that hurt their other efforts.
Styles started quickly, striking Nakamura with a backbreaker, followed by a phenomenal forearm from the top rope onto his opponent who was on the floor outside the ring. But Nakamura was equally tenacious, catching Styles with a huge one-legged drop-kick, followed by a dragon sleeper submission attempt.
- WWE (@WWE) May 16, 2018
As the match wore on, the intensity level rose. Nakamura was brilliant with his knee strikes, while Styles brought out all the stops, from forearms at a variety of angles and launch points, to roundhouse kicks and even a near-miss on his Styles Clash.
Despite the drama and unpalatable reliance on low blows in previous matches, that part of the story actually paid off in a big way at the close of this match. As Styles went for the finishing version of his phenomenal forearm, he pulled up as Nakamura ducked and narrowly avoided striking the referee. Nakamura took that opportunity to bluff being on the receiving end of another low blow by Styles, and as that pulled the champs's attention away for a moment, Nakamura landed a reverse exploder, followed by a Kinshasa to win the match.
Now Nakamura gets to choose what preconditions he wants at June's Money in the Bank pay-per-view. The truth is that it's too bad any additional terms will be part of the match the next time they meet, unless it's simple and to the point. Nakamura and Styles are at their best, especially against each other, when they leave it all in the ring without drama and without lame outcomes.
Here's hoping the creative team was paying attention Tuesday. As fans, we can accept when the outcomes don't land the way we hope, but half-baked endings tend to put a sour taste in anyone's mouth. Just let AJ and Shinsuke do their thing.
Hits & misses
Lynch's win over the pairing formerly known as Absolution puts her into the women's Money in the Bank match with Flair, Ember Moon and Alexa Bliss. As nice as it is to see Lynch back in the spotlight, of the four performers who have qualified, I'd place her as a distant fourth in terms of her probability to win once they're under the bright lights of the Allstate Arena.
A quick "good, bad and ugly" out of the opening segment when Big Cass interrupted Daniel Bryan's interview. The good: The awesome and convincing beating Bryan gave to Big Cass. He absolutely manhandled his much larger foe with a series of kicks and a heel-hook submission. The bad: Cass' incredibly over-the-top fighting words toward Bryan. Enough already. The ugly: Big Cass' incredibly over-the-top fighting words. Yeah, I know I just wrote that, but it was so irritating, it was worth pointing out twice. You're trying too hard, Big Cass. Let's just see what you can give us in the ring moving forward.
We won't have to wait long, as he'll be taking on Samoa Joe next week, with the winner going to Money in the Bank. Random? Yes. Here's hoping Cass' big boot makes more noise than his mouth. No matter, the odds of Joe falling in this bout seem minimal.
The royal "Mellabration" was anything but good news for Carmella, when Paige interrupted to announce Asuka would be the champ's next opponent, at Money in the Bank. Unless James Ellsworth makes an unexpected return to the WWE to offer some "assistance," or she gets other backup in a hurry, it seems highly unlikely that Carmella could walk out of Chicago with title still in hand. If she can come up with something creative, it would certainly suit her to hold on to the title at least a little while longer.
So The New Day beat The Bar, and now the trio must decide which member will go to Money in the Bank. You could make a compelling case for all three, but how about a triple-threat showdown between them to determine who gets the shot for the briefcase. Pancakes and silliness aside, this would be one heck of a match.
I've thought long and hard about how to couch The Bludgeon Brothers' recent schlocky promos into something positive. But I just can't. In another taped moment, they maligned some of the other tag teams with fighting words likely used in 6th Century B.C. How about just showing up to the ring and fighting? After the long, dynamic run from The Usos as tag-team champs, the current reign by Harper and Rowan has been severely underwhelming thus far.
Quick start from former NXT champ Andrade 'Cien' Almas, who made his SmackDown debut alongside his business associate Zelina Vega and picked up a quick win against a local enhancement talent. It's hard to say what the future holds for Almas, as other former long-reigning NXT champs such as Seth Rollins and Finn Balor have thrived on the main roster, while others like Bo Dallas have been relegated to afterthoughts. All we can say is best of luck, Andrade.
Lana got into the Rusev Day spirit this week, and it seems she may have a support system in place as she faces Billie Kay next week with a Money in the Bank ladder match spot on the line.