A few moments into her promo to open up SmackDown Live on Tuesday, Carmella said if she made a mockery of the women's division two days earlier at Money in the Bank, then who cares?
She ranted a little more about having a chip on her shoulder as the last pick in the 2016 brand separation draft and then held up the briefcase in a cathartic, cynical moment of revenge. Her devious smile spoke as loudly as her actual words.
The problem is, a lot of people do care. No, not about the cunning manner in which her shady sidekick, James Ellsworth, climbed the ladder at Money in the Bank, unhooked the briefcase and threw it down to Carmella for the win. Unscrupulous acts are very much a part of WWE lore. No, it was because the sequence of events that closed out the match detracted from the evolution of the women's division, which was supposed to have a historic moment at this pay-per-view.
Instead, a lot of people were left shaking their heads, as neither Carmella nor the other four women in the match had a full opportunity to really showcase that they indeed can compete in the same manner as their male counterparts.
And we all know they can. Since Charlotte Flair began her run to the top alongside Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch, the division as a whole has made a beeline toward consistent weekly relevance, and it has a level of excitement and anticipation that simply wasn't there before. Flair and Banks became the first women to main-event a pay-per-view, at Hell in the Cell, last year. The growth of Alexa Bliss, arguably the most over heel in the business regardless of gender, further established the women's division as must-see TV.
But in recent weeks, the overall direction in the women's division, on both Raw and SmackDown, has been eyebrow-raising, with little sense of streamlined storyline growth on either show. For the purposes of this piece, we'll stick with Tuesday nights, where they've tried, mostly unsuccessfuly, to build up the mid-card women into the upper-echelon. Carmella had a legit shot to make her case at the end of the match before Ellsworth's antics Sunday spoiled the occasion.
However, SmackDown general manager Daniel Bryan pretty much called a do-over Tuesday night. After much deliberation and pressure from the other four women who competed in the first-ever women's Money in the Bank match (who were essentially proxies for much of the WWE Universe), his verdict was that Ellsworth had no business interfering in the event. Next week, the briefcase that Carmella held in her hands will be raised back up to the rafters, and the women of SmackDown will once again duke it out for a no-strings-attached title shot.
- WWE (@WWE) June 21, 2017
Perhaps it's a little bit too late, but the decision -- whether it was planned before the pay-per-view or a reaction to the immediate negative feedback on the way things unfolded -- is a way to reset, rethink and redo a pretty bad creative misstep. It's not a pay-per-view spectacle, but they will have the spotlight to themselves.
As mentioned, there's nothing wrong with cheating in WWE. It works brilliantly for WWE champ Jinder Mahal and many other heels, but when these actions supersede an entire storyline and weeks' worth of build, especially for a women's division that has sometimes struggled since the Superstar Shakeup in early April, that's where it becomes problematic.
Here's hoping the WWE decision-makers understand the women on SmackDown deserve to showcase their talent. And here's hoping whatever transpires next Tuesday is a step toward restoring the division and, as importantly, re-invigorating our interest. Sure, the forthcoming Money in the Bank mulligan might not meet the standards of the incredible performance the men had Sunday night, but certainly there's more to the story than James Ellsworth.
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) June 21, 2017
Hits and misses
-- Looks like Mahal will need his cronies in the coming weeks. Not only does he need to be on high alert for Money in the Bank winner Baron Corbin, who walked to the ring, briefcase in tow, as Mahal was taking on Luke Harper, but the WWE champion hasn't eliminated Randy Orton from his list of enemies yet, either. As Mahal was celebrating his win to close out SmackDown, Orton rushed the ring and eviscerated the champ, slamming him into the announcers table, throwing him over the barricade and then delivering a series of RKOs to the Singh brothers.
-- Lost in that melee, Harper once again showed us he could, and should, be a mainstay in the upper mid-card matrix. For an athlete of his size, Harper is extremely athletic and a natural in the ring. It's too bad the momentum he had in the beginning of the year faded so quickly. Harper-Kevin Owens would be a worthwhile feud. Just give the former Wyatt Family member a chance, please.
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) June 21, 2017
-- The return of The Hype Bros, who will take on The Usos next week to attempt to re-earn their shot at the tag team titles, gives us even more reason to extol the value of the show's rich crop of tag teams. Compared to Raw, which will no longer have Enzo Amore and Big Cass, not to mention the underwhelming presence of Gallows & Anderson, SmackDown rules when it comes to tag team wrestling. You could make an argument that five teams are worthy of holding the belts right now, and this doesn't include The Colons or The Ascension.
-- One of those teams, American Alpha, made its return, well, half a return anyway. Chad Gable showed up to answer an open challenge from Owens for the United States championship. Although Gable, predictably, lost, his combo of strength and athleticism was incredible, which begs the question ... where has this team been? And the longer-term query: Could Gable go Big Cass on us and break out as a singles competitor on the main roster? Gable flashed a lot of Kurt Angle, and some Shawn Michaels in his performance on Tuesday. And yes, that's high, high praise for the former amateur wrestler. Remember, Michaels was a member of The Rockers tag team until The Showstopper turned on partner Marty Jannetty in the early 90s, paving the way for Michaels' Hall of Fame career.
-- Once again, I am a little concerned as to the direction that AJ Styles is heading in. There's little doubt he will be part of a main event-level rivalry by the time SummerSlam rolls around, but as it stands, he doesn't really have serious heat with anyone on the roster. The most obvious choice is to insert himself into a storyline involving Owens; the two almost went at it during Owens' open challenge before Gable came to the ring, but for now, that confrontation will have to wait. So, what's next, AJ?
-- It's too bad we can't see Dolph Ziggler and Shinsuke Nakamura skirmish every week. As much as some narratives tend to get jaded and dull with repeat encounters, these two have phenomenal chemistry. In a rematch of their Backlash clash, Ziggler and Nakamura engaged in a long battle Tuesday. It began deliberately, but as the match wore on, so did the intensity. Nakamura converted a series of vicious kicks to his opponent and later narrowly lost when Ziggler struck a Zig Zag. Ultimately, Nakamura finished things off with a Kinshasa knee. They sold their animosity toward each other like champs. A few more rounds between these two wouldn't be the worst thing.
Quote of the night
"If you don't shut up, I will make you look like Ellsworth." -- Charlotte Flair, fed up listening to Natalya running her mouth.
Now those are some fighting words.