Nakamura Already Central Figure of SmackDown

Nakamura is one of six wrestlers booked for the Money in the Bank ladder match ...

SmackDown revolved more around who might be next to challenge Jinder Mahal, rather than the new WWE Champion, as WWE booked the competitors for the Money in the Bank ladder match, and then also main-evented the show with a tag-team match centered around Money in the Bank.

Mahal still had his shining moment on this show, however.

The show opened with a promo segment where Shane McMahon announced that Money in the Bank would feature Dolph Ziggler, Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura.

Kevin Owens came out and he was not happy with this list. Rightfully, even as a heel, pointing out that he technically won his match at Backlash while Styles, Ziggler and Corbin all lost.

Ad – content continues below

Shane, I guess pleased with what Owens had to say, added him as a sixth man to the Money in the Bank match.

This is both good and bad for SmackDown, which only has four shows to build to the next pay-per-view, including last night. That’s not long at all, when you consider that SmackDown had Backlash on Sunday (May 21) but prior to that, did not have an exclusive pay-per-view since WrestleMania 33 back on April 2.

Building to Money in the Bank was necessary, but building up the new champion was as well.

WWE sort of accomplished this with Mahal’s celebration, which kicked off right around the 9 p.m. hour. It was colorful and the visual was good for television. Mahal’s promo was OK, nothing special, but more surprisingly nothing really came from the segment. It was Mahal celebrating while drummers surrounded ringside, Mahal then cutting a promo, and then a huge fireworks display.

I was a little surprised that we didn’t see Orton interrupt the celebration. That’s just what wrestling fans have become accustomed to. But this could be good for Mahal, who didn’t have to take a beating just two days after winning the championship. This made him look strong, the question is still whether or not the fans will accept his out-of-nowhere push.

He’s a slow, prodding heel. I don’t think Mahal is ever going to have a “five-star match” that’s going to make him as champion. Maybe I’m wrong, but I just don’t think that’s his style. At least not what most fans will come to expect a “five-star match” to be. He’s not going to chain wrestle the way Styles or Ziggler is going to do.

Ad – content continues below

So if he’s not going to do that, then Mahal needs to hit a home run with his promos. He’s not there yet. I don’t know whether or not he can get there – he’s making some strides – but there still is something missing. There’s a piece that hasn’t fit into place yet. I believe Mahal can be successful as a top heel for the SmackDown brand, but he’s not quite there yet. For his sake, he needs to find that “something else” pretty soon.

Becky Lynch & Charlotte beat Carmella & Natalya

This match didn’t serve much purpose other than to get Becky a win back, I guess. They still aren’t moving anything forward with Charlotte, and whether or not she’s a heel or a babyface. In fact, I’d say that she has had the most uninspiring babyface turn in a long time. That’s not on her, either. That’s on WWE for not treating it like it was a bigger deal. They did a nice job billing her as one of the top “gets” for SmackDown in the superstar shakeup, and here we are only one month later, and there’s no steam behind her character whatsoever. That’s a huge miss on WWE’s part. They need to tell a story with Charlotte and always make sure that she has something to do that’s meaningful, or else she’s just not going to feel like a special part of the show anymore.

Sami Zayn beat Baron Corbin

This was a huge shocker. Not only did Zayn get the win, but he rolled Corbin up in only about 10 seconds.

The post-match beatdown was interesting. They needed to get Corbin’s heat back, so he beat up Zayn and forced the ultimate underdog to take a stretcher ride to the backstage area. Still, this feels like WWE cooling off Baron Corbin. According to multiple reports, Corbin was in line for a big push after WrestleMania, but it appears that push went to Jinder Mahal. We could speculate, but perhaps Corbin hasn’t ingratiated himself to the right people backstage? I’ll always remember the WWE24 special that ran on the network, when someone told Matt Bloom that Corbin was getting called up after WrestleMania, and Bloom looked surprised. I’m not sure it was intentional, but it definitely gave off the appearance that Bloom didn’t think Corbin was ready. Perhaps we’re starting to see some of that now, and the people on the main roster are noticing things.

Ad – content continues below

That said, they still kept him strong with the beatdown. It’s just that losing in 10 seconds, even if you do beat up your opponent after the match, doesn’t make you seem like this big, unstoppable heel.

Tyler Breeze beat Jey Uso

Strange, this match lasted under one minute.

Fandango beat Jimmy Uso

Stranger. This match also lasted less than one minute.

The Usos beat Breezango to retain the SmackDown Tag Team Championships

Ad – content continues below

Ok! So that’s where they were going with this.

Overall, the segment was entertaining. I mentioned this in my Backlash review earlier this week, but Breezango is becoming a guilty pleasure, and I’m actually finding their stuff funny. At some point though, if they want to be taken seriously, they need to start taking things seriously.

Shinsuke Nakamura & AJ Styles beat Kevin Owens & Dolph Ziggler

Interesting match that lasted almost a half hour. They’re slowly teasing a Nakamura-Styles feud, which should be huge for the SmackDown brand and WWE in general. The hope, of course, is that they don’t rush into it. They need to let this burn slowly and it could be a top match for WrestleMania next year.

There’s no question that AJ Styles, as WWE Champion, vs. Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania 34 could be one of your “main events.” It’s just a matter of whether or not WWE/Vince McMahon feels the same way.

What worries me about Nakamura is that Vince just isn’t going to “get him.” 20 years ago, he didn’t “get” Steve Austin, but he had the willingness to go there and try it out. Now at 71 years old, I’m not sure he’s willing to do the same. He seems very set in his ways (wow, that’s the understatement of the century, isn’t it?) and if Vince doesn’t get it, my fear is that he’ll pull the plug cold turkey.

Ad – content continues below

Triple H, for as much heat as he gets from the internet fan, understands Nakamura. Look at how he was booked in NXT. In fact, I’d argue that NXT has upped Triple H’s credibility with the “internet fan.” This is all good news, if Triple H has more influence than Vince McMahon, but that doesn’t appear to be the case just yet.