Are championship titles enough to resolve the issues for SmackDown’s tag team and women’s divisions?
Chris Schubert: It will probably be enough for the tag team division, but the women’s division is in a really bad spot. They already were considered the secondary show for the women, and then with Sasha Banks’ injury, it got worse. I assume that most fans thought that Bayley would be joining SmackDown when she got called up to the main roster. Now with Banks out, Bayley’s push to the main show needed to be expedited and it needed to be to Raw. SmackDown does have Nikki Bella, which might help a little bit. Either way, the SmackDown women’s division needs structure and a direction, both of which they lack. And they don’t have the talent to just throw a title in there and hope it works.
Ronnie Rowlands: Absolutely. Didn’t SmackDown feel a thousand times better with all those wrestlers having something to get out of bed for? There was a slew of meaningful matches on the mid card, and we finally got the sense that SmackDown was going to cater to the hunger and ambition of its roster. It was sad, perhaps, that The Ascension was kicked out at the first hurdle at the expense of the tired and uninspiring Usos, and the increasingly impressive Breezango were knocked out by the obvious anointed winners American Alpha. The issue is that none of the teams can really afford a loss at this stage, but it is at least making way for some decent matches. The women’s division doesn’t really have the same problem, since their batch hasn’t suffered from the booking side of things, and we’ve had some adequate matches. Amazing what a world of good the suspension of Eva Marie did.
Adam O’Brien: To an extent. Neither of the divisions have any direction without a championship, so introducing titles was a necessary step towards making the women and tag teams of SmackDown actually worth watching. But you can’t just throw gold in there and expect the division to take off. We need to be invested in each entity on the roster regardless of who’s wearing the strap. The women are starting to do that by planting seeds for a Nikki Bella-Carmella feud, but so far the only interesting things about the tag division are American Alpha and Heath Slater, who only just entered it. Once this tournament ends, WWE will have to get back to delivering actual tag team rivalries, because there can be no emotional investment otherwise.
Brandon Jackson: No, but it helps. The fact that there is something concrete for the women and tag teams to fight for is a definite positive. The new tag team belts look beautiful. The problem is the belts don’t add anymore talent to the divisions. The divisions need more bodies. Adding Heath Slater and Rhyno as a comedy team was a good move, but the division is still incomplete. The same goes for the women’s division adding Nikki Bella. They need a couple more veteran signings.
Joseph Nardone: Not at all. Both divisions remain really thin. I mean, for heck’s sake, the women’s division is six performers. It is a good start to it, though. The talent fighting over nothing is rather pointless. At least now all involved have something to battle for. It should help in telling stories and creating angles. Overall, however, there is still a ton of a work that needs be done.
Outside of Becky Lynch, who do you think is most deserving to win SmackDown’s Women’s Championship?
CS: To be honest, nobody. Giving it to Nikki Bella appears to be the popular opinion. Although deserve is not the right word, she does make a lot of sense to win. She has name recognition. Having the longest reigning Divas Champion be the first SmackDown Women’s Champ certainly gives the title some prestige right out of the gates. That being said, Becky is the right fit. She was their top pick, and she is their biggest draw hands down. Giving it to somebody like Natalya or Naomi would be a massive mistake and put the division in a bad spot.
RR: Nikki Bella, the more talented of the Bella twins. She is hugely over with the fans and is probably the most acceptable flag bearer of the SmackDown women’s division at this stage. They seem to be moving in a championship win direction with her too – that heel turn from Carmella generated a whole lot of sympathy for her, and since she has just come off a career threatening injury, she is likely to be the victorious underdog candidate.
AO: Natalya. This woman has had to put up with a lot for very little in return over the course of her career, but now there’s a real opening for her to step up. Carmella and Alexa Bliss need to build themselves up a little more, so you can rule them out, and even though Naomi is a great athlete, there’s less potential for a compelling championship rivalry with her as titleholder. With Nikki or Becky on the hunt against a veteran champion like Natalya, it would do well to imply a seasoned women’s division on Tuesday nights. The only concern is that Nattie would need to avoid looking like SmackDown’s equivalent of Charlotte on Raw, and do her own thing to make it original.
BJ: Nikki Bella, and that is including Becky Lynch. Nikki Bella was obviously positioned as the star of the division at SummerSlam. Even after spending almost 300 days as a heel champion, Nikki was able to return to a babyface reaction, so much so, that it seems that there was a double turn with her and Carmella. Nikki should win the title and be the woman that everyone has to chase once again. Nikki is a great champion, but she is not so good at being a challenger. She does her best work while being on top.
JN: Deserving is a weird way to put it, as it is not as if these talents are judged some off sort of scientific metric. That said, I would go with Alexa Bliss. Nikki represents an era of wrestling we all claim we hate, Becky has had her turn in the sun, and everyone else is just kind of there. Give me some (maybe ignorant) Bliss.
AJ Styles earned his second shot at the WWE World Championship since debuting in January, but can he afford to lose a second time?
CS: Probably. Styles is one of the most over guys on the roster, because of how good he is in the ring. That will keep him popular with the crowd and they will still enjoy whatever feud he gets himself thrown into. That being said, it may diminish his victory over John Cena just a tad. It was a huge victory for him, and capitalizing off of that momentum is a good idea for his character. Styles being the champion is a good idea while he is a heel, because they can build up a huge babyface to dethrone him down the road (maybe a face version of Bray Wyatt?). If he does end up losing, it won’t be the end of the world. Although, people will sure make it out to be that Vince McMahon doesn’t like small guys being champion.
RR: Of course AJ can afford to lose it. It’s not like his entire career is dangling on a precipice in the same way that Dolph Ziggler’s is due to his booking. A loss to Dean Ambrose certainly wouldn’t remove the impact of his win over John Cena either; he beat Cena and that’s the end of it. That isn’t going to become nullified, that match will not be “un-won” if he fails to capture the WWE World Championship. If nothing else, Styles has the credibility to give a huge rub to anyone who beats him – something that never goes amiss with a younger talent like Dean Ambrose.
AO: No, and that’s why I was surprised to see the match made one-on-one instead of a triple threat with Dolph Ziggler. If AJ Styles isn’t walking out of Backlash with the WWE World Championship over his shoulder, Ziggler would have made for the perfect fall guy. But now that he’s been taken out of the equation, there’s no alternative. Either Styles wins the title, or his momentum after one of the biggest victories of his career is immediately squandered. It’s unfortunate that it has to be one or the other, because I don’t think Ambrose has peaked as champion just yet, but the roll that AJ is on right now is too precious to throw away. I think he’ll be coming out of this one with the gold.
BJ: NO. Styles cannot afford to lose another championship match. He is in a very rare position right now, getting a win over Cena in not just a match but the whole feud, and it would be a shame to let that go to waste. It was great that they chose to put Styles in this match without having a No. 1 contender’s match, because it shows that big wins can mean something in WWE. It’s now or never for Styles as for as the championship goes. If he doesn’t win now but ends up being champion later or even next year, it won’t mean nearly as much. They need to capitalize on his momentum and give him the title even at the expense of the blue team captain, Dean Ambrose.
JN: I am going to say no, but that’s mostly because it has to deal with the fact he is facing a washed up version of Dean Ambrose. If he were facing a more name-brand, super-duper-star, a loss would be no big deal. But losing to a guy who hasn’t put on a good match in well over six months? That’s not ideal. For what it is worth, I think AJ walks away as the champion since Ambrose’s run has been as spectacular to watch as it is to look at grass grow.