Tuesday's edition of SmackDown Live only reinforced what is becoming clearer each week: The U.S. Title is more important than the WWE Championship.
Last week's SmackDown Live was not only main-evented by a thrilling U.S. No. 1 contender battle royal, but also featured a quality matchup between AJ Styles and Chad Gable to qualify for the main event. After Styles shocked the world during a non-televised event at Madison Square Garden, this week's edition started off with Styles donning a brand-new U.S.-themed shirt.
Styles immediately drew a line in the sand. "This championship has been overlooked way too many times. So from now on, every time you see a man with this championship around his waist, you will know that he is the best." Styles aimed to prove it by bringing back a fan-favorite -- the U.S. Open Challenge.
John Cena's U.S. Open Challenge in 2015 led to some of the most memorable moments of the past couple years. The U.S. Title was hardly defended before Cena won it from Rusev at WrestleMania 31, but around his waist the title felt important. In his first SmackDown as champ, Styles is already bringing that prestige back to the U.S. Title.
After Styles challenged anyone in the locker room to face him, it was only too appropriate that Cena, the creator of the Open Challenge, would be the first to answer the call.
WWE has showcased some amazing rivalries in recent years, but few, if any, have been able to match the fan reaction and chemistry of Styles-Cena. Kevin Owens and Rusev served as spoilers and interrupted the nearly started match by attacking both Styles and Cena, but Styles had already gotten his point across --the U.S. Title is now the title to go for on SmackDown Live. It's certainly not the WWE title.
That intrigue-piquing segment was followed by a Jinder Mahal-Tye Dillinger matchup that served little purpose. Mahal won in quick, unimpressive fashion and grabbed the mic to cut an all-too-familiar promo. Randy Orton was nowhere to be seen.
The 6-foot-5, chiseled Mahal might have the traditional build of a WWE superstar, but it was the sub-6-foot Styles who looked like a champion Tuesday.
Battleground coming into focus
Great Balls of Fire was just this past Sunday, but yes, Battleground is quickly approaching on July 23. SmackDown needed to provide more clarity for what the card would look like, and Tuesday's show did just that. The two new additions to the card are Baron Corbin vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, and a Fatal 5-way Elimination Match to determine No. 1 contender for SmackDown's women championship between Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch, Tamina, Lana and Natalya.
Baron Corbin vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Corbin-Nakamura seems like a feud fans should get behind, but week-after-week the two continue to do more of the same. There is little story behind this rivalry other than continuous beat downs, the latest of which ended their match on SmackDown before it even started. SmackDown needs to showcase Nakamura more than the short segments he's given every week. The show badly needs his star power. Dolph Ziggler was not the one to bring that charisma out of Nakamura -- his moment with Styles at Money in the Bank was his main roster peak thus far -- but thus far, Corbin hasn't had success in that regard.
Women's Fatal 5-Way
The women of SmackDown Live are becoming a bit of a paradox; the entire division is featured far more than Raw's women, but the division sorely lacks a prominent feud for that reason. The inaugural SmackDown women's championship was crowned in a six-pack challenge at 2016's Backlash and the division has continued with the multi-person-match trend ever since.
Whether it was the second six-pack challenge at WrestleMania 33, or the two Money in the Bank matches in recent weeks, the women of SmackDown haven't had the chance to separate themselves from the pack. SmackDown will never be able to find their Flair-Sasha Banks if they try too hard showcasing everyone at the same time. Tuesday's matchup of Flair and Lynch against Natalya and Tamina didn't help anyone break out of the pack (and why exactly is Carmella being left out of this match?)
Hits and misses
As great as the opening segment was, the main event of Styles and Cena against Rusev and Owens was a bit of a letdown. Instead of another epic showdown between Styles and Cena, we got a match that was more fit for a house show.
Speaking of letdowns ... The Usos and The New Day had a disappointing follow-up to their surprisingly epic rap battle last week. Xavier Woods defeated Jey Uso in a quick match with both teams tossed from ringside. Nothing halts the build of tag feuds more than pointless singles matches.
- WWE (@WWE) July 12, 2017
This week's Fashion Files, a knockoff of "Walker, Texas Ranger," featured special guests this week in The Hype Bros. Zack Ryder told Mojo Rawley he's still not over being eliminated by him in last week's battle royale, hinting at a breakup that could be coming sooner rather than later. I'd be hyped for that feud.
Sami Zayn vs. Mike Kanelis (formerly Mike Bennett) is a great matchup on paper, but their build so far has been a head-scratcher. Maria Kanellis came looking for Zayn in the locker room, only for Chad Gable to answer the door to deliver the line of the night, calling Zayn, "Sami Wow Wow". Zayn then met up with the Kanellis' to air his grievances, only for Mike to smash a glass vase over his head. This feud is built around Zayn being in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Kanellis' are talking about their love. The former ROH and TNA stars are capable of much better. This is feeling more and more like the SmackDown Live version of Finn Balor vs. Elias Samson.
- WWE (@WWE) July 12, 2017
On the topic of Gable, he's been a pleasant surprise on SmackDown Live in recent weeks. The former Olympian is ever-improving in-ring and has underrated mic skills. As much as American Alpha is a dynamic duo, I want to see more of Gable on his own moving forward.
While the returns of Cena and Rusev certainly help the card, Battleground, at least on paper, is looking like a far cry from the highly entertaining Great Balls of Fire. Interesting to see how the rest of the card shapes up with only one SmackDown left before that pay-per-view.