If there's one clear theme permeating WWE programming right now, it's that love is in the air. SmackDown had its poolside "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" role reversal between Otis and Mandy Rose, and Angel Garza's flirtations with Charly Caruso on Raw were rudely interrupted by Zelina Vega.
There was, of course, some wrestling on these shows, too. The Intercontinental championship tournament took a wide left turn into a road sign on its way to the finals, Dominick Mysterio was dead set on getting his revenge for his now one-eyed father Rey, and Bayley and Sasha Banks are going through more will they/won't they moments than Ross and Rachel (and kids, ask your parents if that reference goes over your head).
Instead of standing around for hours -- like the NXT roster and Performance Center students are now doing on these broadcasts -- let's get down to business.
The long and winding road to Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles for the Intercontinental championship
SmackDown opened like a scene out of the "Law & Order" franchise. Elias was laid out on the pavement in front of a wrecked rental car, with "police officers" finding a conspicuous bottle of booze and a conveniently placed rental car agreement bearing the name of Jeff Hardy. Two WWE correspondents, producers and Universal champion Braun Strowman are among the crowd gathered outside of the Performance Center.
As a small group sets out to examine the source of a sound, Jamie Noble, the long-absent Jason Jordan and a few officers stumble upon an "impaired" Hardy holding his head. Hardy, who has been featured in promotional videos over the last few months detailing his substance abuse issues and apparent comeback is handcuffed and sent away. And with an apparent hit and run as the cold open to SmackDown, half of the semifinal field for the Intercontinental championship tournament is out of play.
AJ Styles elects to take a free pass to the finals, while the honorable and not at all misguided Daniel Bryan elects to fight a replacement opponent. As everyone backstage angles to claim said spot, and producer Adam Pearce tries to calm his constituents amid cries of "Jack Tunney!", a 10-man battle royal is hastily arranged.
Unlike many of the one-dimensional, single-purpose battle royals of the past, this match did a strong job of shining the spotlight on multiple performers. In addition to the continued wholehearted commitment to throwing support behind King Corbin, who earned all of the early eliminations in the match, two less frequently featured players got their shot. Uso knocked out Corbin and reached the final two, while Shorty G eliminated both Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura and was only eliminated because Cesaro illegally re-entered. Shorty G and Cesaro went on to have a wildly entertaining, if too brief, one-on-one match later in the night that will hopefully set the stage for something more substantial after Shorty G won.
Sheamus predictably won the match and earned his way back into the tournament, but his triumph was brief. Hardy returned "from lockup" just in time to interrupt the main event and allow Bryan to secure the victory and his spot in the finals. The Sheamus/Hardy saga will certainly continue, but for now, let's focus on Bryan and Styles. Their title clash will be their first televised one-on-one match since the 2019 Royal Rumble, and with two guys with as much talent and familiarity with one another mixing it up, it's bound to be an instant classic.
Dominick Mysterio has revenge for his father and family on his mind
On a week-by-week basis, Seth Rollins continues to ramp up and lock into the right wavelength for his new charismatic leader approach. From his unflinching insistence that he's in the right at all turns to his warped tribute to Rey Mysterio, Rollins is putting in some of the best work of his career. His performance in Mysterio's non-retirement retirement ceremony, which he wrapped up by graciously volunteering to induct Mysterio into the WWE Hall of Fame, was enough to draw the otherwise stoic Aleister Black into the ring with a running start.
Black pulled off the victory, a big one for his career, but Rollins is proving to be Teflon when it comes to absorbing losses at this point. He and his disciples, Murphy and Austin Theory, orchestrated immediate retribution with a pair of stomps -- first to Humberto Carrillo for daring to try to assist Black, and then, after shouting intensely in Black's face about how there had been a warning and how this was because Black wanted to be "a hero", a second, assisted stomp to Black.
Later in the show, Mysterio was interviewed remotely. He wore a version of his mask with one eye covered in black, and after going on about how Rollins was a monster, Rey's son Dominick sat down beside him. While there was no direct challenge for a match, Dominick called for "an eye for an eye" in a threat to Rollins once his father had walked away.
While Dominick flashed some moves when he stepped into the ring alongside his dad against Brock Lesnar, the setup for a three-on-three match seems like a good way to allow the 23-year-old rookie to play to his strengths and not get over-exposed.
Sasha Banks and Bayley continue to hold it together
It's unclear how many times Bayley will have to throw Sasha Banks to the wolves before she snaps, but Friday clearly wasn't the final straw. After confronting the women's tag team champions during "A Moment of Bliss" with The New Day as guests, everything escalated until Bayley once again volunteered Banks for a match. Banks was not only not in her ring gear, but was wearing boots with massive heels.
Banks got her hands on a pair of sneakers during the commercial break and, thanks to a little bit of connivery, Bayley offered an assist and Banks earned the win. That earned Banks and Bayley, the original women's tag team champions, a shot at those belts on the next edition of SmackDown. It was a rough week for Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross, as Cross lost to Billie Kay on Raw.
Bayley is without a challenger for Backlash, so unless something tangible comes together in that match, the tag titles could also factor into what she does at that pay-per-view as well. But the looming conflict between these two best of friends is still bubbling beneath the surface.
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