WWE Champion AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura (Last Man Standing Match)
This marked the end of a three-month rivalry that began before WrestleMania. What started as a “dream match” devolved into a heated feud on SmackDown Live, with Shinsuke Nakamura trying his best to provide AJ with a natural form of birth control. Their encounters have gotten progressively better, but each has been hampered by a lackluster finish — at least until now.
I generally hate Last Man Standing matches. The 10-count gets old fast, and it results in a lot of standing around waiting. In the early going, I feared this bout would suffer the same fate as previous LMS matches, despite the strong (style) work being put in by both guys. Nakamura dominated most of this one with a devastating arsenal of kicks and knees from various angles. Every strike landed with force and precision, and Styles made it all work with some of the finest bumping you’ll ever see in pro wrestling, staggering off the ropes like a pinball.
If Styles’ selling defined the early portion of the match, it was Nakamura’s transformation into weaselly heel that defined the middle. Here we finally saw the last stage of that transformation, as Shinsuke resorted to begging AJ for mercy, backing away and desperately swinging for his favorite new weapon, the low blow. I loved the strategy of AJ trying to take out Nakamura’s leg in the back half of the match, a logical concept that’s rarely utilized with this gimmick match. AJ’s fire on his final flurry was a sight to behold, as he reached deep into his playbook for an unforgettable sequence of a Styles Clash off the steps, a kick directly to the junk (paying off the months-long angle) and, finally, a Phenomenal Forearm outside the ring that put Nakamura through an announce table.
This was a tremendous blowoff match. They somehow made the restricting stipulation work. The great storytelling touch of the final low blow from Styles put it over the top, making it Nakamura’s best main roster WWE match and perhaps the PPV match of the year for the company. It’s also on a short list of the best LMS matches. Grade: ****1/2
– Greg Phillips
Men’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Main event time! There are far too many people in this contest to keep track of. Oh for the days of a six man Money in the Bank. Luckily with the announcement of Kofi Kingston being the representative of the pancake-obsessed New Day, we knew of at least one man who wouldn’t be pulling down the briefcase. The rest of the field all seem to have a decent enough shot at this thing save for the perpetually over Rusev and professional entrancer Bobby Rooooo. The match itself was a ton of fun. The psychology of burying Strowman with ladders was a nice touch as was Kevin Owens putting the fear of God into his family. Rusev going accolade-crazy was a blast, and the potential of a Joe/Rusev feud is only cooled by the suspicion that the brass hates Rusev with every fiber of their beings. As soon as Strowman got loose he proceeded to destroy everyone one by one, including RUNNING THROUGH A LADDER. On Rusev Day no less, he pulls down the briefcase and makes himself an immediate threat for the title on the three or four days a year the champion is in the country. If there was one criticism of the action it would be this: while Strowman was killing Owens, Joe and Rusev near the entrance, what the hell was everyone else doing? Kofi eventually sprints up to Strowman. If he can sprint down an aisle he can’t run up a ladder? Why does Miz stand by a ladder in the ring while Strowman beats his way to the squared circle? I get it. It’s fabricated, but it’d be nice not to see the wires. Finn Balor can climb a ladder to hit a coup de grace but can’t climb to win the damn match. I’m nit picking. I’m tired, but it’s also nearly six hours into the show. “But you don’t have to watch it,” screams the internet. “I’m addicted to wrestling”, I reply, with a tear on my cheek and a hole in my heart. A hole I had hoped to be filled by Finn Balor, but alas; he’s banging someone else’s heart tonight. Solid spot fest with an interesting winner and a solid way to end a somewhat lackluster show. Grade: ***1/2
– Aaron George
Women’s Money in the Bank Ladder Match
The women’s side of Money in the Bank had a good mix of potential winners and great workers going in, and if we’ve learned one thing from WWE PPVs in 2018, it’s that when the women are put in the spotlight, they deliver. This was no different.
This match cut a frantic pace from the beginning and never really let up. So far in their history women’s MITB matches seem to be more about the struggle to even get in position to set up the ladder in the ring, rather than a lot of climbing and jumping off things, and it makes for a much tighter match. We had our fair share of nutty ladder spots, like Naomi’s splits onto the ladder, or Charlotte powerbombing and then later spearing Ember Moon onto ladders, or Becky’s John Morrison climb up the ladder being held up, or Naomi’s Shelton springboard to the ladder. Of course, Sasha Banks was in this match so we also got our fair share of people trying to murder Sasha Banks — Ember Moon giving her a crossbody right on the edge of the ladder, Natalya giving her a slingshot powerbomb onto a ladder, both just disgusting bumps. One of my two most fervent wishes for this match was for Sasha Banks not to actually die, and it was touch and go there for a minute.
My other most fervent wish was for Becky Lynch to actually win something, and apparently I wasn’t the only one because Becky was the clear crowd favourite. Her face offs with Charlotte were the biggest character moments within the match (apart from Lana Lana’ing Up with the Accolade, which was awesome), and Becky ended up playing the role of the perennial bridesmaid perfectly, getting all the way to the finish and in the middle of unhooking the carabiner before Alexa Bliss swooped in and stole the chocolates, in true Alexa Bliss fashion. Amazing crowd reaction for her too. This was balls of fun and probably the best of the women’s MITB matches to date. Grade: ****
– Stacey O’Loughlin
Raw Women’s Champion Nia Jax vs. Ronda Rousey
I just…don’t get it. I really don’t. WWE is in the middle of its Workrate Era, they have a roster stacked with possibly the most wrestling talent they’ve ever seen in one place, and Ronda Rousey can walk in the joint having never had a match and is somehow immediately the best wrestler on planet Earth. I truly do not understand.
This was magnificent and blew all expectations out of the water. Full credit to Nia Jax for finding her inner Mark Henry and putting on a great performance. Her big stuff like the powerbomb out of the armbar and the swing into the barricade wall really landed and she felt like a real monster. Ronda Rousey is terrifyingly good. She nailed every aspect here, from the big picture dramatics to the small stuff that a one match veteran truly has no right to nail. There were so many amazing little touches in this: Falling out of the ring after the powerbomb, the way she escaped the bearhug, or wobbling for a second when she went to the top rope for the first time in her life. It is honestly rude how phenomenally good Ronda’s selling was. This match had a great cat-and-mouse vibe to it.
And just when Ronda did make that big comeback and did slowly break Nia’s fingers apart — here comes Alexa Bliss to crash the party! This was an incredible finish for many reasons — it protected Nia and Ronda from losing, it elevated Alexa back into the title picture and gave her a measure of cruel, heelish revenge on Nia Jax, it managed to be a fun and satisfying bait-and-switch finish, and the crowd went MENTAL for it. I like how Alexa drew it out too and made sure that Ronda was down and Nia was broken first. Everyone came out of that match looking better than when they went in. A fantastic piece of business. Strap all the rockets to Ronda Rousey. Grade: ****1/2
– Stacey O’Loughlin
SmackDown Women’s Champion Carmella vs. Asuka
This was…problematic. I said before it began that if Asuka had to sell for Carmella for more than 0.7 seconds I’d be sad. As it turned out, Asuka had to sell for Carmella for about 7 hours, and I was very sad. Carmella has a decent annoying, cowardly heel thing going on as a character, but her dominating Asuka in the ring for almost the entire match was some pure garbage. The one thing I did like from Carmella was her doing a Killmonger and yelling “Is this your Empress??” while she had her wacky submission hold on. Asuka tried, and hit her stuff as well as she always does during her too-brief periods of offense, but this match didn’t land at all.
Having said that, they were starting to get into some nearfalls and a decent finishing stretch when…that happened. A mysterious figure dressed up as Asuka appeared, and maybe in the future it will be revealed that Asuka has an evil, fatter twin who haunts her dreams because Asuka stood frozen in shock for an embarrassing length of time. Alas, this one was only the returning James Ellsworth in disguise, and this distracting distraction lead to Carmella kicking Asuka in the head and pinning her, to add to the list of ‘Things That Happened In This Match That Were Extremely Physically Unrealistic And Make No Sense’. Since WrestleMania both Charlotte and Asuka have lost to Carmella, and with Ellsworth back it seems her reign is only just beginning. Grade: **
– Stacey O’Loughlin
Roman Reigns vs. Jinder Mahal
“Here comes the BIG DOG,” declared Michael Cole as Roman entered the arena in his slacks and glittered bullet proof vest. The feud and match that no one asked for is now upon us in the latest, and perhaps most blatant, attempt to get that audience to cheer for “The most polarizing figure in WWE today.” It doesn’t work. Within forty five seconds the crowd is chanting CM Punk and they don’t let up from there. Most of Roman’s matches are, at the very least good, but Jinder Mahal can’t even take a Samoan drop properly so this thing is dungeon of doomed. NXT, BORING, THIS MATCH SUCKS, Y2J, LOD and even VELVETEEN are chanted at various intervals during the contest. The wrestlers unfortunately are as tone deaf as the company, as they respond to the boring chant with a series of chinlocks in which Jinder lays about Roman like a comfortable blanket, giving the large canine a sense of security and perhaps, even heat. One wonders if the master of this year has been neutered. One wouldn’t have to wonder these things if the guy they built the promotion around wasn’t a god damn dog. I already have to contend with that hair and those dreamy eyes looking at me now I have to think of his balls and whether they are still attached to his impeccably balanced scrotum. What’s happening here? Speaking of balls…there are far too many hard camera shots of the crowd paying attention to ANYTHING other than the match. So what? The live crowd didn’t dig it. Big deal. The crowd didn’t dig genocide either, but Stalin ADORED it. What about the fans at home? It’s anecdotal but I can share that my buddy who came over stopped watching in order to faun over my wife’s Trader Joe’s cupboard. I don’t want to shit on Trader Joe’s, besides their irresponsibly small parking lot, but if that isn’t an indictment on the match don’t know what is. Roman looking shocked when he doesn’t win a match on a kick or a Superman punch, despite NEVER winning a match in that manner is his entire authenticity problem in a nutshell. Michael Cole can scream about what an important moment this spectacle was, but the truth is, it was a listless contest which went on far too long for an already hostile crowd. Grade: *
– Aaron George
Bobby Lashley vs. Sami Zayn
I thought Creative got this one right as far as result. The way this feud had been booked, a quick and convincing win by Lashley made sense…that is where the positive comments end. When Bobby Lashley signed I felt it was a nice get for the WWE. Lashley is a physical specimen with a pretty impressive resume in both the world of wrestling and MMA. To say his current run has lacked intrigue would be an understatement. The build up to this match was truly awful and I don’t put that on Bobby or Sami. There are some fun matches you can make with Lashley going forward but you have to give the people a reason to care about him and play to his strengths. I thought the finishing spot with the one armed suplex was a good start…hopefully he can carry some momentum from that moment into the immediate future. Grade: 3/4*
– The Cowboy
Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins vs. Elias
This was a big test for Elias. His character and promo work are top notch, but most are still justifiably skeptical of his in-ring ability. Not to mention he looks identical to Seth, only enlarged by 25%. And with Rollins on a hot streak, expectations were pretty high heading in. The build to the match centered on Rollins’s injured neck after a guitar shot from Elias, and it played heavily into the match. That, along with Rollins being generally worn down from being a fighting champion, left the champion vulnerable.
Throughout the match, Rollins continued to take risks despite his injuries, and it nearly cost him the match, as Elias took advantage and wore down his injured neck. In the end, Seth had to use his craftiness to win by reversing a rollup and grabbing Elias’s belt for leverage. He didn’t outshine Rollins here, whose selling of the neck and knee really propelled the match, but Elias certainly carried his end of the bargain. He continuously went after the Rollins’s weaknesses and worked in some nice details like pinning with rollups to take capitalize on the neck injury. He also did an excellent job of getting over his frustration at not being able to finish off the resilient champion with his expressions. Though his movements weren’t always super smooth, he did a great job of adding emotion to the match.
I loved how much this felt like an Intercontinental Championship match. You had one established guy on a hot streak and another who has been on the rise looking to put on a great match. Both guys were over, and the crowd cared. It felt like a bit of a throwback. I expect this feud to continue when Elias calls out the champion for cheating to win. Grade: ***1/2
– Jacob Williams
Daniel Bryan vs. Big Cass
I liked this as a choice to open tonight’s show as Daniel Bryan is a guaranteed monster pop, and it ensured the crowd doesn’t get off to any chant antics out of the gate. Bryan looked crisp here, selling his back well, and I thought Cass looked good as he focused on the lumbar region throughout. Overall, this was one of Cass’ best singles matches to date (faint praise, natch) and it’s not a shock that it came against Bryan. I also liked D-Bry working the leg late in the match and the finish was really well done, with Bryan showing great anger when he snapped into the heel hook to finish the big man. Both men were due for something new, so ending the feud here made perfect sense and in the end I do think it helped reestablish Cass. I am not sure where he should head next but whatever it is, he should have more heat than he would have a few months ago. With this placeholder feud out of the way and as we inch closer to Brooklyn, it may finally be time to reignite Bryan’s issues with Miz to set up the big showdown at SummerSlam. Grade: **3/4
– JT Rozzero
SmackDown Tag Team Champions The Bludgeon Brothers vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (Kickoff Match)
There wasn’t much build to this match, aside from Anderson upsetting Harper with a rollup win a few weeks ago, which in theory makes it seem like the Good Brothers could at least hang with the dominant champs.
Gallows and Anderson gained a surprising early advantage before the Bludgeons took over with their usual strong (and entertaining) power offense. Anderson survived while Gallows was knocked out, and the ensuing hope spots from the underdogs, like when they nearly reversed a Harper DDT into a Magic Killer, added some needed drama to a match that most considered a foregone conclusion. The challengers looked like they could actually pull off the upset, and considering a squash wouldn’t have been a huge surprise, that’s an accomplishment. It served its purpose of adding some solid tag action to the preshow. The champs got a strong title defense, while Gallows and Anderson looked pretty competitive. Grade: **1/2
– Jacob Williams