WWE SmackDown Live results, recap, grades: Samoa Joe plays mind games, Miz-Bryan ignites

The final episode of SmackDown Live before the self-branded "biggest party of the summer" felt more like a dress rehearsal on Tuesday than a go-home spectacular. While WWE's intentions were certainly in the right place and much of the material decidedly well-written, SmackDown's go-home show ahead of Sunday's SummerSlam card in Brooklyn, New York, failed to strike the same high notes that the blue brand had seemed to consistently reach in recent weeks.  

Something about the two-hour episode felt a bit too safe and neutral, safe for possibly Samoa Joe's final statement in the show's closing segment to hype up his WWE championship bout against AJ Styles. But overall, WWE kept the pressure instead on Sunday for the real fireworks to be delivered in a 13-match card which features depth and no shortage of big names. 

Samoa Joe plays one more mind game 

SmackDown general manager Paige warned both Samoa Joe and AJ Styles in separate backstage conversations that they must stay professional on Tuesday in order to not jeopardize her main event on SmackDown. Joe countered by referencing his killer instinct and unpredictability. He also said he "will continue to do whatever I damn well please, whenever I damn well want to." Styles, meanwhile, simply said he made a promise to his wife that he intends on keeping.  

Styles closed the show by delivering an in-ring promo about the lessons he has learned over 20 years in the ring and how hard it is to hold onto the WWE championship due to the pressure it adds. Styles then gave the "mastermind" Joe credit for hitting his pressure points by physically attacking him and calling him a failure as a husband and father. Just as Styles referenced the promise he made to his wife not to lose his cool, out came Samoa Joe with a letter he thought Styles needed to hear.  

Claiming it was written by a member of the WWE universe, Joe shared how his comments on Styles and his family had made the fan physically ill "not because they were wrong but because they were true." He continued that the fan used to be the biggest Styles fan in the world until it became clear that Styles never wanted children or a wife. The letter closed by saying, "At SummerSlam, I pray that you win so AJ can know the feeling of losing the thing he loves most because I lost him a long time ago. My sincerest gratitude, Wendy Styles." The show ended with Joe walking away with a smile as Styles shook his head. 

Such a brilliantly written segment was received as a bit of a mixed bag, largely because the constant warnings from Paige throughout the night made the idea of physical violence to close the show seem automatic. While everything from Joe's delivery to the idea of saving the reveal that the letter was written by Styles' wife was strong, the way the show ended so abruptly only mixed with Styles' lukewarm response to take away from how much of a burn that segment was designed to be for Styles. The dastardly nature of Joe's psychological attack on Styles was so good, it demanded a much more physical (or even angrier) response. Instead, it fell a bit flat.  Grade: B- 

Miz-Daniel Bryan feud featured in packages

Separated into three parts that were interspersed throughout the episode, WWE recapped the long history of beef between Miz and Bryan which dates back to the prehistoric days of NXT when Miz served as the rookie Bryan's mentor. Commentary from both superstars played in between, with the first video focused on Miz's belief that Bryan was never willing to listen to him, which led to his 0-10 record in NXT and early cut. "He just didn't have the talent," The Miz surmised. 

The second part focused on Bryan's initial rise to the championship and superstar level, which he admitted was fueled by a style he thought would eventually catch up to him. The Miz blamed Bryan's fragile ego for taking on too much risk. After footage of their infamous 2016 argument on Talking Smack, Bryan countered The Miz's claims that he's a coward by saying he only "took the high road" and didn't fight back so he could keep a promise to Vince McMahon that he would finish his contract as SmackDown GM and didn't want to jeopardize getting fired. Bryan also shared his anger for having his moveset stolen by The Miz.  

The third part focused on Bryan's emotional comeback before WrestleMania 34 in April and how Bryan's last move as SmackDown GM was to acquire The Miz in the Superstar Shakeup. "I have nothing to prove to Daniel Bryan, I have surpassed him in every possible way," The Miz said. "If Daniel Bryan wants to prove something to me, it's too late." He closed by saying his eight-year nightmare will be over at SummerSlam, where Bryan will have to admit that The Miz is better than him. Bryan admitted he has been surpassed in recent years by The Miz's celebrity but said he didn't come back for that. "I fought to come back because I love wrestling; that is my passion," Bryan said. "After all the crap there is only one thing left to do and that's get in the ring to finally shut you up." 

Considering there's an argument to be made that this match should be held until WrestleMania because of how well is has been built over the last decade, something felt off about seeing such a long-awaited video package on SmackDown as opposed to at the pay-per-view. What it accomplished, despite such a gluttonous backlog of great footage, was making such a can't-miss feud somehow feel more ordinary than it should've been. While the commentary between video flashbacks from The Miz and Bryan were solid, it was hard to ignore how unspectacular they were. And for a feud this important, not having them in person on a go-home show to share final insults and punches came across as underwhelming.  Grade: B

What else happened on SmackDown Live? 

  • Carmella gets mouthy with Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair: The SmackDown women's champion only joined her SummerSlam opponents in the ring because Paige made her and let her displeasure be known by telling them she is tired of their faces. Lynch admitted she's only human and doesn't want the "super-human" Flair to win on Sunday and Flair told Carmella she's "a diva living in a women's era." Carmella agreed and said she's proud of it before comparing her beauty and the curves of her body to that of Flair and Lynch. An annoyed Paige came out to book a match as a means to preview their triple threat title bout.
  • Charlotte Flair & Becky Lynch def. Mandy Rose & Sonia Deville via submission: No longer billed as Absolution, the heels controlled the match long enough for Carmella to mouth off and put herself over on commentary. Finally, a hot tag to Lynch cleaned house and Rose quickly tapped out to the Dis-arm-her. After the match, Flair told Lynch backstage that she didn't need to do it by herself. Although Lynch admitted she got carried away, the two shared an uneasy goodbye after wishing each other luch on Sunday.  
  • The Bludgeon Brothers destroy a trio of jobbers: The SmackDown tag team champions' 3-on-2 handicap match against local enhancement talent The Triple Threat never even got started. Harper and Rowan instantly attacked the trio and continued to assault them with tandem power moves outside the ring. The savagery concluded with Harper hitting a clothesline from the second rope as Rowan held up his hapless foe.  
  • The New Day def. SAnitY via pinfall in six-man tag team match: Killian Dain debuted a new wrestling singlet with the name of his faction on the back that stood out for how bizarre it looked on him given the psychotic nature of his character. The heels relied on constant double teaming in this high-energy match to hold an advantage until a late hot tag to Xavier Woods. The finish came after Kofi Kingston, who was wrestling on his 37th birthday, hit a trust fall off the top rope to take out Alexander Wolfe and Eric Young on the floor. Big E then held up Dain as Woods hit his Up Up, Down Down from the top rope for the 1-2-3.  
  • Andrade "Cien" Almas def. Aiden English via pinfall: Rusev and Lana watched on a monitor from the back as English delivered a pre-match song asking for forgiveness and claiming "tonight I fight for Rusev Day." English's best shot at victory could only draw a two count after he hit a splash off the top rope. Almas then countered into a hammerlock DDT for the finish. A post-match promo from Zelina Vega ripped "catchy phrases and useless holidays" before saying she plans to expose Lana as "dead weight that is dragging down her husband." Out came Rusev and Lana to argue from the stage with the Ravishing Russian claiming, "Together we will crush you because this year SummerSlam falls on Rusev Day." 
  • Jeff Hardy def. Shelton Benjamin via pinfall: This get-well match for Hardy to freshen him up for Sunday turned out to be a fun one for as long as it lasted. Hardy got two on a Whisper in the Wind and Benjamin countered with his own near fall on a super plex. Soon later, Hardy packaged a slingblade, Twist of Fate and a standing splash for the 1-2-3. Out came Shinsuke Nakamura and after Hardy turned his back to knock Benjamin off the apron, Nakamura landed a knee to his spine. But before Nakamura could land his Kinsasha, Hardy countered into a Twist of Fate before hitting a Swanton Bomb. Randy Orton creepily watched from behind the stage and video wall in the corner of the arena on the floor. 
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Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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