Yes, the Pay Per View train keeps rolling following the WWE brand split, as it’s time for another Smackdown-branded show, only two weeks after Raw had their turn with Clash of Champions. The good news is, on paper, No Mercy looks like it could be a pretty good show. But as many an athlete has said, they don’t play the game on paper, so let’s look a little deeper into Smackdown’s sophomore attempt at a brand-exclusive PPV, and try and figure out what the show might mean for the future of the brand as a whole.
10. Can History Repeat Itself?
Despite heading into their first brand-exclusive PPV with only six matches booked, none of which looked to be particularly fantastic show-stealing affairs, plus a last-second reveal that Randy Orton wasn’t going to be able to compete in one of the most heavily-promoted matches on the card, Smackdown managed to acquit themselves well, as Backlash ended up as a pretty good show (albeit one with just a touch too much stretching to fill time at points) with solid wrestling, mostly smart booking, and even a big feel-good moment for fan favorite Heath Slater. This continued their streak from television, where the blue brand has maintained a steady pace of quality shows, while Raw has yo-yo’d up and down in terms of consistency. Now the question is, for the second Smackdown PPV, can they continue the trend? It’s certainly not impossible, and headed into No Mercy, there’s definitely more optimism about this show than the one which exceeded expectations a month ago.
9. Face The Facts
Now, there’s a chance that Curt Hawkins ends up being an interesting character. We’re not going to put a lot of money on that, because his introduction so far has involved re-purposing a years-old Chuck Norris meme and/or Matt Hardy Version 1.0’s old gimmick, but the man behind the gimmick is a good hand in the ring if nothing else. We’re a bit concerned it’s taken so many weeks of vignettes before he finally debuts, as if the writers themselves don’t have a huge amount of faith in the character, but even if he turns out to be taking over Heath Slater’s role as “recognizable jobber”, that still fills a necessary role on a Smackdown roster that doesn’t have a whole lot of depth beyond what appears on TV every week. It baffles us that Raw can’t even manage to put a quarter of their roster on TV regularly despite having three hours, while Smackdown has been basically playing “all hands on deck” since the draft. Maybe that whole 3-to-2 draft strategy wasn’t the best plan after all. Frankly, the Smackdown roster is so thin, we’re hard pressed to figure out who Hawkins is even going to debut against. Could we see a “local talent” match on PPV?
8. We The People Don’t Care About Jack Swagger
Speaking of wrestlers who may have been added to Smackdown just to add depth, we have Jack Swagger, who hasn’t been anything even close to relevant in years, but still gets a lot of chances because he’s got all the attributes that should have resulted in a big star. A feud with Baron Corbin doesn’t sound exciting, but it does give something for the Lone Wolf to do while everyone figures out exactly what his place on the show is supposed to be. Seriously, Corbin must confuse the writing staff as much as he does us, because it continues to seem like they want him to be a big deal, but aren’t exactly sure that he’s in a place where he will be. So, instead, he’s been in placeholder feuds where he gets the upper hand, but it doesn’t really lead to any sort of elevation to another level, because the World and Intercontinental title pictures have had other things going on that have no room for him. Frankly, it wouldn’t shock us if Corbin picks up a victory over Swagger (the match hasn’t been announced as of this being published, but we could see it on the pre-show), then makes himself the next challenger for the Intercontinental title as a result.
7. Right Where She Belongs
The thing a lot of people forget about Carmella is that when she started in NXT, even as the valet for Enzo and Big Cass, her character was so obnoxious that she was booed anytime she wasn’t at their side. Calling yourself the “Princess of Staten Island” isn’t exactly something a lot of people see as a good person, after all, and the fact that she was an incredible green wrestler at a time when the NXT Women’s Division was taking off didn’t help, either. In fact, at one point it was all but assumed that she would be officially turning heel on Enzo and Cass during a title match, which never ended up happening (Alexa Bliss actually ended up doing the deed, becoming the intriguing heel character she still plays to this day). The point is, when WWE debuted her separate from “her boys”, it was probably only a matter of time before she’d end up in a heel role, and all credit to the Smackdown writing team, they pulled the trigger sooner rather than later. This is why Smackdown’s Women’s Division looks so much deeper than the top-heavy Raw side, because they can’t afford to waste a single body, forcing them to be creative.
6. Speaking Of The Women
While Alexa Bliss’ wrestling abilities are a far cry from what we’re getting out of the Horsewomen on Raw, she has a character that demands attention, one she has refined to perfection down in NXT, that we’re finally getting to see after getting mostly lost in the shuffle since she debuted after the draft. She’s clearly just a filler feud for Becky to establish her as a strong champion, but we wouldn’t be shocked if the match pulls off a surprise in terms of quality, as Becky is excellent and Alexa will be primed to show exactly what she’s capable of. In fact, Becky has a long line of strong heels primed and ready to challenge her, between Bliss, Carmella, and the lurking Eva Marie, which may not lead to the **** star matches we’re seeing from Bayley, Charlotte, and Sasha (in fact, it almost certainly won’t), but will lead to a stronger division from an entertainment perspective. While Raw has leaned on having established female stars, and already burned through a big marquee match-up only a couple of months into the brand split, Smackdown’s division is actually just getting started being built, and the early returns seem promising.
5. All Good Things…
Listen, it was great that the mismatched underdog pairing of Rhyno and Heath Slater overcame the odds to secure Slater a contract and the double-wide of his dreams, but now that their story is over, it’s time for the real teams to play. The Usos have instantly reignited their characters with a long-overdue heel turn, and the money feud, of course, is American Alpha working their way back up the ranks to get revenge on The Usos for costing them a shot at the titles in the first place. And the real good news is, if Smackdown can keep up the really good storyline pacing they’ve had since the brand split, we might not have to wait three PPVs and a half-dozen rematches before we get to that point! In any event, now that Heath’s job is secure, and with Rhyno presumably having campaign duties to attend to as the election approaches, the clock has to strike midnight on this Cinderella story. Hopefully it’s not the end of Slater as a featured player on Smackdown, however, as he’s clearly shown he deserves the spot, and has the fan support to justify it.
4. Will He Stay Or Will He Go?
It seems like every year there are rumors about Dolph Ziggler’s contract expiring and him leaving WWE to pursue a career in stand-up comedy, but they never lead to anything. Well, now Dolph has a match where he has agreed to leave WWE should he lose, and with loopholes like a jump to Raw specifically addressed and eliminated, you can be sure that the rumor mill is hard at work once more, trying to figure out Ziggler’s actual contract status in an attempt to predict the future. We don’t have any idea when Dolph’s contract expires, but we’re not seeing his WWE career ending this Sunday. The problem is, we don’t particularly want to see Dolph Ziggler as the Intercontinental Champion, either, simply because his opponent, The Miz, has been doing fantastic work while holding to belt. To be fair, though, Miz could do the same work without the title, and probably deserves to move above the IC title level anyway. So, while that does mean Ziggler probably wins the belt away from him at No Mercy, we actually don’t expect him to hold it for long, and we wouldn’t be shocked to see a young up-and-comer (say, Baron Corbin) wrest it away from him fairly quickly.
3. The Battle Of Who Could Care Less
We’ve said from the beginning that feuding with Randy Orton was the exact wrong direction for Bray Wyatt, because there was absolutely no way he was going to win that feud. Now, here we are several weeks later, and not only is Bray losing, he’s getting blown out of the water. Wyatt has failed to intimidate Orton physically (admittedly, a lot of that was because Orton was medically unable to compete for several weeks after SummerSlam), lost to a stand-in at Backlash (who hasn’t even been seen on TV since) and Orton’s even winning the psychological game, which is supposed to be Bray’s strong point. We wouldn’t go so far as to say that Orton handily defeating Wyatt’s series of traps and beating him out of his smoky room has irreparably damaged the character (any more than it already has been over years of misuse, anyway), but it has meant that Orton has maintained a strong upper hand throughout this entire thing. At this point, we wouldn’t put it past WWE to give Bray a tainted win over Orton at No Mercy (possibly featuring the much-teased debut of the “real” Sister Abigail), just because after weeks of making him look horribly weak, absolutely nobody would expect it at this point. But we’re going to play it safe and say Orton continues his domination of Wyatt.
2. He Gone
Sorry, Cena fans, but he’s not tying Ric Flair just yet, mostly because immediately after No Mercy, he’ll be off regular TV once again to film a second season of American Grit. And rumors are that Ambrose will also be taking some time off to film a WWE Studios project, so even if we weren’t already inclined to pick him, the smart money is definitely on AJ Styles to retain the WWE World Title. Oh, there’s no doubt that Cena will eventually get that 16th reign, with rumors suggesting that might be the plan for WrestleMania. But thanks to a combination of injuries and out-of-ring commitments, this will actually go down in history as year with the least amount of time John Cena has regularly been on WWE programming since sometime in 2003. In fact, almost overnight, Cena has become the part-time player Ambrose accused him of being, and has definitely moved out of the main spotlight since the brand split. If anything, his presence in the main event feels almost like an afterthought, as he was shoehorned into the ongoing feud between Styles and Ambrose, earning a title shot on reputation more than any recent qualifications, and seems to be there only to add star power to the PPV rather than figure heavily in the decision of the match.
1. Who’s Next?
No, we’re not talking about Goldberg, despite all the news floating around about his imminent WWE return. We’re talking about AJ Styles’ next opponent. It will have to be someone pretty big, as the PPV after No Mercy is the cross-brand Survivor Series, but John Cena almost certainly won’t be around to build a feud (and besides, that’s probably on hold until WrestleMania), and Dean Ambrose is probably out of rematches at this point. Actually, we probably shouldn’t pretend there’s some sort of big air of mystery around who it will likely be, because there’s one obvious choice left, a man who main-evented SummerSlam, is dominating his current feud, doesn’t need to win the belt, and is probably the perfect choice to stretch out a main event feud until the Road to WrestleMania starts: Randy Orton. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on your point of view, we suppose. On the bright side, if it is Orton, that pretty much guarantees Styles will remain World Champion until WrestleMania, and that’s something nobody could have predicted when he debuted earlier this year.