So let's get this straight: SmackDown has a new boss, a new bad guy, new bitter rivals, a new blockbuster main event and ...
What are we forgetting?
Right, a new leading princess. We're talking The Princess of Staten Island. Finally, after 287 days with her Money in the Bank briefcase by her side, Carmella officially, and successfully, cashed in Tuesday night against an already beaten-down Charlotte Flair to become the sixth woman to hold the SmackDown title.
For months, we've wondered aloud when Carmella was going to leverage her free shot at the women's crown. She's held the briefcase since June 27th of last year. Was she going to cash in at SummerSlam, Survivor Series, the Royal Rumble, perhaps some random episode of SmackDown Live to spice things up? Or maybe two days ago at WrestleMania, when it seemed like she would for sure foil the Charlotte-Asuka all-time great matchup.
Nope, nope and nope.
But in retrospect, what better time than the first show after WrestleMania, when our attention was on so many other things such as NXT call-ups and the fallout from AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura and the celebration of Charlotte, who ended Asuka's perfect run in the WWE on Sunday in New Orleans.
On Tuesday, Charlotte strolled to the ring as her "Sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30" music blared in the background. It was her night to be feted for what could arguably be called the most significant win of her already Hall of Fame career.
But you know how these things go. First, her exultation was cut off by the main-roster debut of The Iconic Duo, Billie Kay and Peyton Royce, who first verbally flatted the champ, then literally laid her out. Charlotte was helpless and hurting. No help was on its way. But Carmella was.
The Staten Island Princess, after multiple teases of cashing in her briefcase in recent weeks, grabbed a stunned referee, dragged him to the ring and pleaded for him to ring the bell. Following a few moments of mass confusion, he did. One superkick to Charlotte's kisser, and she was done. Carmella pinned the Queen for the win and the title.
Well played, WWE.
Somewhere, James Ellsworth is sitting back, tugging on his dog collar and reveling in his gal pal's nefarious handiwork.
I'm in tears, you did it girl!
Forever my friend who is a girl .. #SDLive
- James Ellsworth (@realellsworth) April 11, 2018
It was a lot to digest with so many other post-Mania water-cooler topics to discuss. But those seem secondary to the shocking sea change to the SmackDown women's landscape.
Now we have to ask the obvious question: What does this all mean?
To start, we have a new champ in Carmella. But is she just a temporary placeholder, or is this the beginning of an extended run and the birth of a legit star, whom we've been waiting on to leap out of her mid-card purgatory for what seemed like an eternity.
Is this the end of Charlotte's current run on SmackDown? Next week is, after all, the much-ballyhooed Superstar Shakeup, and no one knows what to expect.
Charlotte is already a four-time champ on Raw, and with Asuka, newly minted title-holder Nia Jax and, of course, Ronda Rousey under the Monday umbrella, the addition of Charlotte would give that show unparalleled star power.
There are so many permutations. Asuka could bail for Tuesdays, Charlotte could stick around and build on her beef with Carmella and, who knows, maybe Alexa Bliss is going to find her way back to SmackDown, a show she dominated before her move to Raw last year.
Whatever is in the offing, this much is for sure. Carmella finally had her moment. She's still a little green, but perhaps some time in the spotlight will hone her shtick. There's no question, she has the potential. It's just a matter of whether the creative team gives her enough time with her new slice of gold.
Nakamura ruins a WrestleMania-worthy match
Doesn't Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles sound like a WrestleMania 35 headliner? But hey, why wait to feature this eye-popping showdown when they're both ready and willing to make it happen right now?
In her first blockbuster announcement since taking the SmackDown general manager reins, Paige declared Styles and Bryan would clash in the main event later that night. In a single moment, you got the kind of high-stakes match that Raw was sorely lacking on Monday night. For the first time ever in WWE, and first time anywhere in more than 12 years, Styles and Bryan had the makings of a match that would instantly go down in WWE lore. It was also Bryan's first match on SmackDown since 2015.
Bryan, who resigned as SmackDown GM earlier in the day to pursue a full-time gig as an in-ring performer, showed little rust. Neither he nor Styles held anything back, and there was a serious buzz building in the arena. Back and forth they went, blow for blow, submission for submission, until Nakamura came out and spoiled everything in the closing seconds of the show. Just as he had following a losing effort at WrestleMania two nights earlier, Nakamura struck a vicious low blow on Styles, struck both men with a Kinshasa knee strike and then a second Styles low blow for good measure.
After playing dumb and pretending not to speak English with Renee Young backstage (with a wink, no less), Nakamura gloated about his shameful tactics and smiled all the way back to the locker room as Bryan and Styles laid in agony.
We're certain this won't be the last time Styles and Bryan have an opportunity to go at it in the ring, though they too could get split up by the Superstar Shakeup, but Styles now clearly has his greatest villain and adversary lined up for the foreseeable future.
Hits and misses
How cool was it to see Paige follow in the footsteps of Daniel Bryan and maintain a significant role in the WWE, when career-threatening injuries disallowed each of them from performing in the ring? In an emotional promo after Shane McMahon announced the decision, Paige thanked the commissioner for giving her the opportunity. As one of the leading personalities in the women's wrestling revolution, Paige will certainly have a major impact on the show.
Here's hoping Naomi gets a major push again. Between her slingshot leg drop, scorpion kick and split-leg moonsault in a winning effort against Natalya, Naomi has a skillset that very few men or women have. She's been a relative non-factor since dropping her title at last year's SummerSlam. That must change.
Another solid showing between The Usos and The New Day for the No. 1 contender tag-team spot. In the end, Jimmy and Jey prevailed and will face the newly crowned The Bludgeon Brothers at the Greatest Royal Rumble in a little more than two weeks for a shot to reclaim their titles. What does this mean for New Day? Perhaps nothing. Or perhaps a move back to Mondays. As with every other star, we shall find out soon enough.
What would another edition of SmackDown be without another plea to the creative team to give Rusev the push everyone in the universe wants? He came up short (again!), this time in a triple-threat match involving Randy Orton and Bobby Roode to decide who will face the United States champ, Jinder Mahal, at Backlash. In the end, Orton came out on top and, in a rematch of last year's showdown at Backlash where The Viper dropped his WWE championship, he'll get a shot at redemption. This was not a rematch and renewal of tensions that went over well with fans.
So then, what's the plan for Rusev? He has another big match at Greatest Royal Rumble, when he enters a casket match against The Undertaker, but he's certainly not walking out of that one as the winner. Perhaps the summer will finally be the time for Rusev Day to warrant a proper celebration.