UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Shane McMahon had just landed his latest flurry of punches, sending a helpless AJ Styles onto a barren announcers table, when the commissioner rolled back into the ring and climbed to the top rope. Not a soul left in a rollicking Mohegan Sun Arena was left sitting. McMahon took a few deep, methodical breaths, and then in yet another high-flying, are-you-kidding-me moment, leaped into the air and landed an elbow squarely on Styles with enough force that it left the table (and seemingly Styles) in smithereens.
But believe it or not, that daredevil stunt, which closed out Tuesday's edition of SmackDown Live, might not have been the top highlight of the evening.
Less than two weeks before WrestleMania, the show not only tied up a few loose storylines, but it ran the gamut from good to great in-ring action with rare knee-slapping humor in between.
The night began with the tag team championship on the line. Until last week, American Alpha had been nonexistent, but their disappearing act can be forgiven after an enthralling bout against the equally dynamic Usos.
From start to finish the four competitors put on a spirited, acrobatic performance with endless suplexes, superkicks and moonsaults. The action, as it should have, elicited strong wails of joy from the crowd, including Rob Gronkowski, who sat ringside.
The ending, an unscrupulous low blow, courtesy of the middle rope, to Jason Jordan, followed by a superkick, gave the Usos the win -- and the titles.
Breathtaking as it was, the decision to move the belts back into the hands of the Usos -- now three-time tag team champions -- with WrestleMania around the corner is a head-scratching one that arguably could have been left for the grand stage, even if it was a pre-show attraction.
Perhaps there will be a rematch in Orlando, but even if American Alpha were to reclaim the titles, it wouldn't have the same knockout vibe. Like the decision to elevate Bayley to the top so soon, handing such a talented, but greenhorn, team the gold without any real time to build a proper plotline could have a negative fallout in the long run.
American Alpha was the longest-reigning champ in the WWE at 84 days. Now that title belongs to Dean Ambrose, the Intercontinental champion.
Back to Shane
Despite McMahon's theatrics, the narrative between he and Styles on Tuesday evolved slowly. We saw flashbacks of Styles tossing McMahon through a car window last week to kick off the show, then Styles eventually made his way to the ring and, speaking to the audience, reveled in his ruthless decision to hurt the boss. But Styles also felt insulted that he, the "face that runs the place," was relegated to a match against Shane.
It's fair to say that was an understandable sentiment. After all, Styles has consistently been the top performer since arriving in WWE more than a year ago, and whether face or heel, he garners more reaction from the crowd than just about anyone on either roster.
In the final segment, McMahon, sporting a pretty serious shiner as a result of last week's ambush, made his way to the ring amid the usual burst of excitement from the fans. But the excitement turned modestly flat when he began to speak. For the first time all night, "What" and "CM Punk" chants began to reverberate throughout the arena. It led to a few awkward moments until Styles appeared once again. In a condescending tone, he apologized to his superior, but as soon as Styles stepped inside the ring, McMahon unleashed a whirlwind of punches, leading to that extraordinary top-rope elbow drop.
HE'S STILL GOT IT! @shanemcmahon SOARS with an #ElbowDrop into the announce table!!! @AJStylesOrg #SDLive #WrestleMania pic.twitter.com/0lHGtzcAlP
- WWE (@WWE) March 22, 2017
This series of events reminded us what has historically been true of McMahon. He doesn't have the chops to give us a start-to-finish thrill ride, but all it takes is one epic moment like Tuesday -- or like last year's WrestleMania battle against The Undertaker -- and we'll have ourselves a confetti-worthy match.
Miz is comedy gold
With so much material to mock John Cena and Nikki Bella, it took the Miz and Maryse not one, but two, pre-taped spots to ridicule the stars of "Total Divas."
The spoofs amassed unadulterated laughter from the crowd, and truly were a couple of the most entertaining and painfully funny moments we can remember. Don't believe us, just watch:
.@mikethemiz and @MaryseMizanin have UNVEILED unseen @Total_Bellas footage, and it is SHOCKING to say the least.... #SDLive pic.twitter.com/YUcy9YwcQZ
- WWE (@WWE) March 22, 2017
The only bad news here: There's no shot their WrestleMania match could live up to the ludicrously laughable parodies Tuesday.
Order is restored for Wyatt and Ambrose
The most anticipated match of the night, the Randy Orton-Baron Corbin contest wasn't really about any bad blood between these two, but rather building their respective WrestleMania angles.
A few minutes into their bout, a forklift emerged from the backstage, an obvious indication that Dean Ambrose was returning from his brutal backstage attack by Corbin two weeks ago.
When the spotlight eventually hit, a miked-up Ambrose, who had been sent skyward on the forklift, let out this wisecrack: "Hey, Corbin, you busy?" The distraction led to an RKO by Orton and the win.
And thus the final major outstanding WrestleMania loose end was sealed between Corbin and Ambrose, who had made his way to the ring to take pleasure in his successful revenge.
Meanwhile, backstage, a group of men in sheep masks surrounded and then apprehended Orton, only for Wyatt to appear and declare himself unbroken after the maniacal house-burning saga a few weeks ago. Wyatt vowed that Orton's attempt to expose his one flaw was now his greatest strength.
What's interesting here is that Wyatt, the victim in this feud, is still being pushed as the villain. It seemed that after the praise he received upon winning his first WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber that he had all the makings of becoming the foremost fan favorite on SmackDown, which outside of Ambrose, is missing a true full-time face.
Hits and misses
The women's SmackDown championship build for WrestleMania did itself few favors after a chaotic five-person melee broke out that left us shrugging our shoulders. Hopefully the pure talent and athleticism of the women's roster will make up for the lack of storytelling come Orlando.
Give me more Fandango, please. Maybe not as a wrestler, but certainly as a stand-up stooge. His handing out tickets to Cena for various infractions, which included being a lousy boyfriend and wrestler -- never mind the audacity to wear jorts in this day and age -- was as funny as it was ridiculous.
It's true, Luke Harper has re-emerged from the missing. Of course, it was in a twisted, villainous big-screen promo touting a match next week against Wyatt. As it has for some time, the sequence of events in this multi-dimensional soap opera with Harper, Orton and Wyatt continues to feel like 11th-hour booking with no clear narrative. Harper was involved in a tag team dark match with his partner Ambrose picking up the win over Wyatt and Corbin.
Tough day for two of the top broadcasters, past and present, in WWE. Mauro Ranallo missed his second straight week of SmackDown, claiming he wasn't feeling well. Earlier in the day, Jim Ross announced his wife was hit by a car while riding her Vespa and suffered multiple skull fractures. He tweeted, "We need a miracle." Our thoughts are with both of these exemplary voices.