Was SmackDown Live better than yesterday's Raw? Not really. But it definitely wasn't a bad show by any stretch of the imagination. SmackDown accomplished some important things over the course of the night. Let's hit the big spots of the show.
To start off, SmackDown utilized a lot of the different camera shots that Raw did, but went in a different direction with its hard cam. It focused in closer to the ring and overall gave a fresh, unique look to the action. The graphics were cool and as always, Mauro Ranallo was excellent from the announce desk.
The was built around crowning a new number one contender for Dean Ambrose's WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Shane and Bryan announced that it would be decided in a six-pack challenge main event between John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Bray Wyatt, Baron Corbin, AJ Styles, and a to be determined sixth participant. It was announced that there would be a battle royal to open the show to decide the sixth entrant. The battle royal ended up being fun and eventually Apollo Crews won it. Crews looked awesome in the match and instantly was made out to be more of a threat on this show than he has since his call-up.
Becky Lynch beat Natalya via submission. Lynch needed the win and in turn was positioned as the top star of the SmackDown Women's Division. From there, each member of the division came out and cut a short promo to introduce the full roster. This was a smart move by WWE. They showcased their whole female division in one night without wasting a ton of time. It helped get eyes on the arrivals of Alexa Bliss and Carmella. I don't like the brand split in relation to the Women's Division, but if this is the direction they're going to stick with, they've put their best foot forward.
Miz did Miz TV and honestly, it was kind of boring. But to be positive, Miz got to establish himself as the heel champion on the show. Randy Orton ended up facing him and they proceeded to have a match rich in story. I really like this match for a couple reasons. One, it showcased Randy Orton as a super-over babyface. Two, they told a story that directly builds to his match with Brock Lesnar. Miz worked over Orton's bad shoulder, the same shoulder that kept him out of action for nine months. This really got over the danger Orton will be in when he takes on Lesnar at Summerslam. They were on the outside, Miz tossed Orton in, and out of nowhere, Orton hit the RKO. He milked the reaction, hit one more RKO, and then pinned Miz for the clean win. Again, this directly built to Summerslam. Though Orton's shoulder does not appear to be 100%, he can still hit his finishing move from seemingly any angle. Loved this match.
Heath Slater hit the ring and seemed to have enter from through the crowd. He cut an awesome promo and really got the crowd behind him when speaking of his outrage that he wasn't drafted to either show. It was awesome for Slater in that he was able to show everyone that he can cut a good promo and has value on the roster. Rhyno emerged in a surprise appearance, goring Slater. It was an exciting segment and the first of many expected wrestler returns.
Since we're on the subject of returns, a vignette aired early in the show for Shelton Benjamin's return to WWE. It's a great move in that he's a familiar face that is synonymous with exciting in-ring moments. SmackDown needs more depth and Benjamin will be a great asset.
The main event did not disappoint. Corbin and Crews fit right into the fray, while Wyatt, Cena, and Styles all did what everyone expected from them. The big star of this match was Dolph Ziggler. Earlier in the show, a promo from Ziggler aired where he talked about how he always tried to steal the show but he lost his way. He didn't quite accomplish what many thought he would. He announced that this was a new era and a fresh start for him in WWE. Well, Ziggler put in his usual gutsy performance and won the match with a superkick on Styles. The only negative of this result was that AJ took the pin. I'm not a fan of 50/50 booking, though if AJ beats Cena at Summerslam, this loss won't hurt him. To defend the finish, the situation was so fast paced that AJ was really taken advantage of. In short, it was a squeaky clean win. Nonetheless, this was huge for Ziggler and in the long term, huge for the show.
No matter what you think of Dolph Ziggler, there's something we all have to understand. He was robbed of a heavyweight title reign when he suffered a concussion and was buried time and time again for reasons that have never really been explained. He was the star of the 2014 Survivor Series and then was promptly pushed back down the card. The guy never phones it in and is arguably in the top five in terms of selling in the ring. He has a lot of star power in my opinion and deserves to be in a much higher spot on the card than he currently resides.
The first post draft SmackDown may not have been as exciting and instantly impactful as yesterday's episode of Raw. But realize that the impact of this show deals more with the long-term success of the brand. Crews shined and has a future. Benjamin will debut soon with immediate impact. The anticipation for American Alpha is in motion. Ambrose wasn't used just for the sake of using him. Ziggler was showcased as a bigger star than he was on Raw. All of these are important to SmackDown weeks, even months down the line. Maybe the show wasn't as newsworthy as Raw, but it was a smart, efficient use of talent. SmackDown will build on this night as the weeks go on and has the potential to grow into something very special.