SmackDown has been the home of some excellent wrestling matches in recent months, and Friday's edition brought more of the same. The show opened with Matt Riddle's second official match on the SmackDown brand, with "The Original Bro" taking on John Morrison in an outstanding match. That effort was followed up with AJ Styles putting the intercontinental championship on the line against Drew Gulak.
Gulak earned his championship opportunity by defeating Styles one week before Styles won the vacant title in a match with Daniel Bryan. The rematch was a hard-hitting bout with Gulak's sharp wrestling skills befuddling the champion before finally falling victim to a Styles Clash and a Phenomenal Forearm, allowing Styles to retain the championship. The two matches combined for one of the strongest opening hours of WWE television in recent memory
Below you can check out all the results, highlights and grades from Friday's edition of SmackDown.
WWE SmackDown recap, grades
Matt Riddle def. John Morrison via pinfall: The match was initiated by King Corbin, who interrupted an interview with Riddle to open the show. The bout began with some hard-hitting and snug work from both men, with good reversals and hard striking while Riddle continued to try to grab and torque Morrison's limbs. As the intense action continued, Riddle was knocked to the outside of the ring where he threw a flip flop into the face of Corbin, who remained on commentary. A Riddle attempt at the Floating Bro was countered by Morrison, who then hit a spinning slam before Riddle was able to lock in a Bromission, but Morrison hit a series of Spanish Flies for a near fall. Riddle was distracted by Miz and Corbin on the outside but managed to score a tight roll-up for the win. AJ Styles attacked Riddle from behind after the match before Gulak made the save. This match was outstanding and felt incredibly different from a normal "main-roster style" match, letting both men show off what they do best while putting on a wild bout. Grade: A-
Intercontinental Championship -- AJ Styles (c) def. Drew Gulak via pinfall to retain the title: The match began after the brawl that followed Matt Riddle vs. John Morrison. Much as the match that preceded it, this was an outstanding in-ring affair. Gulak's mat wrestling game left Styles frustrated, with the champion taking a break on the outside before eating a baseball slide from Gulak. Gulak accidentally posted himself, leaving an opening for Styles to take the match back over and hit a big brainbuster for a near fall. Gulak continued to rally from the attacks of Styles, continuing to frustrate the champion. Gulak ran in to the corner but was caught by Styles, who hit a powerbomb and then a Styles Clash but refused the pin, saying, "Not like that." Styles then propped Gulak on the top rope and hit a Phenomenal Forearm for the victory to retain his title. Two matches to start the show, both incredible performances from the men involved. That is how you book a professional wrestling show. Grade: B+
Bayley def. Alexa Bliss via disqualification: After Bayley and Sasha Banks aired a tribute video highlighting their successes, Bliss and Nikki Cross interrupted, taunting the tag team champions before Bliss delivered a slap to Bayley. Banks then offered up Bayley for a singles match. Bayley, still angry at having been slapped by Bliss, went on the attack immediately, targeting the arm of Bliss as Cross tried to rally the crowd. Bayley continued the attack while taunting Cross on the outside, eventually causing Cross to get on the ring apron for a distraction, allowing Bayley to throw Bliss into Banks' knee. Cross attacked Banks on the outside before punching Bayley and drawing the disqualification. This was a solid enough match between the two women, though Bayley dominated the majority of the action and was wrestling a pretty interesting style with a wild variety of taunts. Grade: B-
Shinsuke Nakamura def. Kofi Kingston via pinfall: After Kingston and Nakamura went back and forth to start the match, Cesaro blasted Kingston with a cheap shot. Big E tried to chase down Cesaro, leading to both men being evicted from ringside. This let things break down into a solid singles match without continued interference from outside, with the match heavily focusing on the strikes of both men. Kingston hit an S.O.S. for a near fall and a leaping stomp for another. Nakamura tried to lock up a sleeper hold, but then used the hold to snap Kingston to the mat and then hit a running knee for the pin. Cesaro came back to the ring after the match and pulled out a table from under the ring, but Big E ran in to stop any further assault. Grade: B-
Sheamus hosted a "toast" to Jeff Hardy: Hardy came to the ring and demanded Sheamus come out and get the "toast" over with. Sheamus then appeared on the Titantron from home and began to run down Hardy's past with drugs and alcohol, saying it was sad, pathetic and broke his heart. Sheamus again said Hardy was lying to himself by saying he wouldn't be a disappointment this time around. Sheamus then told Hardy that the answer to his problems was in one of the bottles set up in the ring and offered up a rhyming toast, ending by calling Hardy a junkie. Hardy said he knows not to "take another man's inventory," but called out his pathetic behavior and asked if it was funny to Sheamus to continue to make fun of his struggles. A bartender in the ring then offered Hardy a glass of champagne. Hardy took the glass, held it up and then stopped short of drinking before pouring the drink on the bartender's head. Hardy then smashed a bottle on the head of the bartender and hit a Swanton Bomb as the show went off the air. This wasn't offensive, but was clunky, especially not having Sheamus in the building. The lack of personal interaction took a lot of punch out of the segment. Grade: C-