WWE SmackDown results, recap, grades: AJ Styles gets surprising Extreme Rules challenger

Money in the Bank has come and gone, and as we inch closer toward one of the biggest shows of the year in SummerSlam, there's one more pay-per-view stop to make with Extreme Rules om July 15. Tuesday's night's edition of SmackDown Live emanated from Toledo, Ohio, and given what took place at Money in the Bank, there was simply one question on everyone's mind: Who will be the next to challenge WWE champion -- and WWE 2K19 cover star -- AJ Styles? 

Luckily for us, the blue brand gave us a star-studded gauntlet match on SmackDown to help answer that question. 

AJ Styles gets a surprising challenger

SmackDown Live general manager Paige announced a five-man gauntlet match to determine Styles' No. 1 contender. Let's look at how this match unfolded, in order:

1. Daniel Bryan def. Big E via pinfall: Bryan and Big E started off the No. 1 contender gauntlet match, and they got things kicked off with some incredible action. Bryan earned the pinfall after catching Big E with the running knee, and Samoa Joe was out next. 

2. Daniel Bryan def. Samoa Joe via countout: Joe caught Bryan on the outside and locked in a sleeper, thinking he could get Bryan knocked out on the outside and get back into the ring before 10-count. The plan backfired, though, when Bryan escaped and fled back into the squared circle first. Immediately, the Bludgeon Brothers, who Bryan had a stare down with when he was making his way down the ramp to start the match as they were headed back following their victory, hit the ring and powerbombed the helpless victor. Of course, we could all venture a guess as to who was heading to the ring next. 

3. The Miz def. Daniel Bryan via pinfall: Miz bolted to the ring, picked up the lifeless Bryan, nailed the Skull-Crushing Finale and picked up the pin. While the Bludgeon Brothers' involvement is a bit odd and an explanation will need to be presented moving forward, this was a great addition to the ongoing Miz-Bryan story. Rusev was the final competitor out to the bout. 

4. Rusev def. The Miz via submission: In one hell of a surprising twist to everything, Rusev earned his first one-on-one opportunity at the WWE championship when he made Miz tap to the Accolade, much to the delight of the crowd. Afterwards, Styles made his way down to the ring to shake hands with his Extreme Rules challenger. Aiden English moved in for a handshake as well, faked Styles out, then caught a fist to the face for his stunt to end the show. 

Most fans -- admittedly, myself included -- have been calling for Rusev to get a big-time opportunity, and that moment has finally arrived. A mid-level show before SummerSlam is the perfect setting to reward Rusev for all the great work he's been putting in within the past year, and while the chances of him emerging with his first WWE championship next month are slim, it's nice to see a good change of pace such as this. Styles and Rusev have all the tools to put on an entertaining match come Extreme Rules, and the gauntlet match we witnessed on Tuesday to get us to this point was high-quality action for a good portion of the second half of the show. Grade: A

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What else happened on SmackDown?

  • Carmella and James Ellsworth get the better of Asuka: Carmella kicked off SmackDown by appearing to be humble in the ring at the beginning of her promo, but of course, she was just trolling everyone. After the usual gloating regarding her accomplishments as of late, bragging about "defeating Asuka all by herself" prompted Asuka's music to hit. Naturally, we didn't get Asuka, rather we got Ellsworth instead. In the first promo since his return at Money in the Bank, Ellsworth revealed he had returned to serve the greatest living woman of all time -- and he even compared Carmella to the likes of Trish Stratus, Lita, Mother Teresa and Beyonce. Asuka eventually made her way out, and she immediately struck Ellsworth with a kick to the mid-section for his actions on Sunday. While distracted from putting Ellsworth in his place, the SmackDown women's champion connected with a superkick to Asuka, and she and Ellsworth headed to the back. 
  • Becky Lynch def. Billie Kay via submission: Lynch made Kay tap to the Dis-Arm-Her, despite the best efforts of Peyton Royce to help her best friend from the outside. After maybe the best overall showing of all the women on Sunday in the Money in the Bank match, it looks like the momentum that Lynch has built up on TV lately will continue. 
  • Jeff Hardy-Shinsuke Nakamura feud brewing: It didn't take long to learn in which direction Nakamura will be headed following his latest failed attempt to capture the WWE championship. Hardy cut a backstage promo with his back to the camera, explaining how Nakamura's Kinshasa from two weeks ago affected him both physically and mentally. The United States champion then turned to the camera to reveal his his face fully-painted, and upon proclaiming that his eyes are now open following the incident, revealed custom contacts to match the black and white makeup. In a backstage segment with Renee Young later in the show, after addressing his Money in the Bank loss, Nakamura said that if Hardy crosses him again, he'll close his eyes. This feud going forward has a ton of potential if handled carefully and correctly. 
  • SAnitY debuts with a violent statement: The advertised bout between The Usos and the debuting SAnitY never took place, with SAnitY attacking their veteran opponents and laying waste to them without the bell ever ringing. A beat down of the former tag team champions to announce SAnitY's arrival -- finally -- may have been the best way to kick off the main roster stint for the group. 
  • SmackDown Tag Team Championship -- Bludgeon Brothers def. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson via pinfall to retain the titles: Much like two nights ago at Money in the Bank, Harper & Rowan retained their titles. Other than to fill some time, it seems as if there was no other reason to hold this rematch on the show. If anything, the Bludgeon Brothers' interaction with Bryan while heading up the ramp following their win ended up holding the most importance. 

Jack joined CBS Sports in 2018 as an editor and writer covering college football, combat sports and golf. He was raised to love the New York Yankees unconditionally since birth and firmly believes a four-team... Full Bio

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