Sunday, September 25, 2022

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SmackDown Redux (July 18th, 2014): Fake Friends, Real Enemies

Welcome to this week’s SmackDown Redux! Erin’s here, filling in for Steven. It feels strange to have such a jam-packed SmackDown, huh? For the second week in a row (!!!) we have two Divas matches. One builds toward the Divas Championship match at this Sunday’s Battleground, while the other adds to a long line of punishment for Nikki Bella at the hands of Stephanie McMahon. We’re actually furthering three storylines, with the fourth (Cameron/Naomi) having been addressed on Main Event and getting its payoff this Sunday. It’s a good time to be a Divas fan!

First up, we have Nikki Bella serving as guest referee for a match between Eva Marie and Alicia Fox. Now, remember: Eva’s a heel now, and not in that wishy-washy way WWE was booking her a few months ago. And Alicia’s, well, Alicia. This can’t possibly go well:

Nikki heads to the ring with Alicia and Eva already there. The two tie up to start things off, Eva backing Alicia into the ropes. Nikki breaks the hold, and they start again. Eva again backs Alicia into the ropes, and Nikki calls for another break.

Eva captures Alicia in a side headlock, but Alicia shoves her off, leaping over her when she runs the ropes and taking her down with an armdrag. Alicia goes for the pin, but Eva kicks out. Eva springs to her feet and rolls up Alicia, who kicks out as well.

When Alicia gets to her feet, Eva slams her down with a spinebuster, going for a pin that Alicia quickly kicks out of. Eva starts to argue with Nikki, going so far as to mockingly poke her forehead. Alicia is enjoying this. Nikki turns her back on Eva, only to get a kick to the stomach from Alicia! This starts an all-out assault on Nikki by Eva and Alicia, the two Divas lifting her up in tandem and slamming her to the mat. Alicia puts an exclamation mark on it all with a scissors kick. Alicia and Eva celebrate their “victory” with some heelish taunting.

Next up, we’re addressing Diva storyline number two when Layla and Summer Rae encounter Fandango backstage:

Fandango wishes them luck, and asks if they can wipe the slate clean. He predicts that when he wins the Intercontinental Title this Sunday, they’ll both be back on his arms.

Summer and Layla scoff at this, telling him that they only reason he had both of them was because they were being two-timed. Layla says that they don’t want to share him or have him in their lives at all. They don’t want an egotistical, manipulative flamenco dancer. Cue hair flips.

And finally, Summer and Layla team up for the first time to take on the Formidable Frenemies, AJ Lee and Paige, AKA Diva storyline number three:

AJ and Summer start off, Summer demonstrating some dance moves to remind us that yes, she is still a heel. AJ watches a bit before planting a kick into the back of a split-legged Summer. She plants another kick, this one to Summer’s midsection, before taking her down with a neckbreaker and going for an early pin attempt. Summer kicks out at one.

Summer tags in Layla, so AJ tags in Paige. Paige comes in guns-a-blazing, clotheslining Layla and going for the pin. Layla kicks out. Paige sends Layla into the ropes, but gets a kick to the head when she attempts a back body drop on the return. Layla goes for the pin, but Paige kicks out at two.

Layla brings Paige to her corner, climbing the turnbuckle and locking her legs around Paige’s throat, hanging backwards over the ropes. Layla takes advantage of the referee’s count before breaking the choke hold. She tags in Summer and hits a low dropkick before exiting the ring.

In the ring, Summer runs the ropes and hits Paige with a knee to the head. Another pin attempt, another kick out. Summer pulls Paige to her feet and whips her into the corner. It’s reversed by Paige, who ends up on the ring apron. She blocks an attack from Summer and delivers a vicious headbutt, kneeing a doubled-over Summer in the head repeatedly. For good measure, Paige kicks Layla off the apron.

Paige hits Summer with a clothesline and a kick, screaming and prepping to deliver the death blow. But wait! AJ tags herself in from behind, showing shades of her past life as a sneaky heel. She skips into the ring and immediately locks in the Black Widow. Summer taps out!

Post-match, Paige looks perturbed, staring down AJ. AJ extends her hand, and after some hesitation, Paige takes it, pulling AJ into an enthusiastic hug. AJ seems a little weirded out by this. But, of course, that’s the idea. Days away from her title defense, AJ still isn’t quite sure what to make of her opponent, and that’s clearly what Paige wants.

Thoughts: The Alicia/Eva match was an interesting way to further the Nikki/Stephanie feud. I mean, there’s only so many Handicap matches that woman can be put through, right? It was obvious that the match was meant to be an ambush, though I’m not sure why Eva and Alicia wouldn’t just attack her from that start. Maybe to make her squirm a bit?

I’m enjoying Eva as a heel. It suits her personality so much better – I can buy her as a “Jessica Rabbit” type of aloof heel rather than an earnest babyface. Playing her against the volatile Alicia is interesting, though I’d like to see Alicia’s fellow heel Divas sell her craziness a bit more. Maybe side eye her a bit?

I saw a report earlier this week that speculated that Alicia’s “crazy tantrum” gimmick was being dropped, but I can’t see a reason to believe that. Just because she didn’t steal someone’s soda post-match doesn’t mean she’s not still the wild card. I mean, there’s only so many times she can do that before it gets repetitive, right? I think what she’s doing is transitioning it into something that’s sustainable and permanent. We knew the outbursts wouldn’t last forever, and we didn’t want them too, right? They would have gotten stale. Her character can keep that wild card aspect going forward through her actions in the ring and the way her fellow Divas play off of her – soda celebrations or not.

I actually really liked the short tag match. Layla and Summer looked strong, which is not what I expected, given the fact that their opponents have a Divas Championship match this Sunday. You’d think this match would be about making them look strong – which, admittedly, it accomplished with their victory – but seeing Layla and Summer manhandle Paige was a pleasant surprise. It didn’t feel like the typical “beat down the babyface to deliver the hot tag” thing, because it had a back-and-forth aspect to it. They looked strong and were soaking up the heat, even when the tides turned and Paige started kicking ass. That, in my mind, is the difference between a losing heel team and a jobbing heel team.

I’m really impressed with how well the WWE is balancing this, developing several storylines at once and not sacrificing one for the other. Summer and Layla are a fantastic team, and I can’t wait to see more from them.

As for the AJ and Paige aspect, that was handled well too. Seeing AJ getting up to her old tricks – sneakiness, possible mind games – and Paige serving it right back with the over-the-top hug was great. Maybe AJ’s found her match? I can’t wait to see what Paige does this Sunday. I don’t see her winning by any means, but what she does in the match’s aftermath should be great. Will she drop this “frenemies” thing and straight up unleash on AJ? I hope so. She can still play mind games as a full-on heel. Hell, she can ask AJ for some tips on how to do that.

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