Brock Lesnar is the new face of WWE on Fox.
In under 10 seconds, Lesnar defeated Kofi Kingston to become the new WWE champion.
Kingston had barely exited the ring before Rey Mysterio unleashed Cain Velasquez onto Lesnar. Velasquez, a former two-time UFC heavyweight champ, first won the title in October of 2010 by knocking out Lesnar. Nine years later, the feud will continue in WWE.
SmackDown spared no expense. The extravagant, WrestleMania-like set was graced by Vince and Stephanie McMahon in the open, and viewers were treated to the return of The Rock less than 10 minutes into the show.
WWE and Fox are seeking a massive opening week rating, so drawing in viewers early with The Rock was a necessity. And the show did not disappoint, in the ring or on the screen, which felt like an enhanced version of high definition television with an extremely sharp picture quality.
The crossover into mainstream media continues for WWE, which was evident on SmackDown during longtime Fox broadcaster Erin Andrews’s interview with the New Day. In addition to legends like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Kurt Angle and Mick Foley ringside, there was also a focus on wrestling and a build to Sunday’s Hell in a Cell pay per view.
Taking place at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, SmackDown felt more like a high-scale pay per view than a weekly television show. Here are the results:
• Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch defeated Bayley and Sasha Banks after Flair made Bayley tap to the figure-eight
• Universal champion Seth Rollins wrestled Intercontinental champion Shinsuke Nakamura to a no-contest after interference from “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt
• Kevin Owens defeated Shane McMahon in a ladder match
• Braun Strowman, The Miz, and Heavy Machinery defeated Randy Orton, Robert Roode, Dolph Ziggler and A.J. Styles
• Roman Reigns defeated Erick Rowan
• Brock Lesnar defeated Kofi Kingston to become the new WWE champion
And here are my takeaways from the premiere of WWE’s jump to Fox:
- Brock Lesnar, once again, stands atop the WWE.
Lesnar is going to play a key role for WWE on Fox, and network executives know that he is an important piece to the show becoming a ratings success.
But the choice of Cain Velasquez to challenge Lesnar looks better on paper than it does in reality.
Velasquez and Lesnar share a real history, but their meeting in the UFC Octagon took place nine years ago. Velasquez also doesn't have the standard physique of a WWE main-eventer, so it will be telling to see how fans respond after years of being conditioned to expect a certain body type. Velasquez has only wrestled two matches professionally, both of which were six-man tags, so he is green in the ring. Despite the flaws, WWE signing him adds buzz to the SmackDown premiere, as well as keeps him away from All Elite Wrestling.
An injured Mysterio, who was wearing a cast as a result of his storyline beating from Lesnar last week on Raw, needs to be the mouth piece for Velasquez in order for him to have a shot at connecting with WWE’s audience.
- WWE is only a show, but Kofi Kingston deserved better than to be buried in nine seconds during his title match against Brock Lesnar.
Perception is reality in pro wrestling, especially the WWE, and Kingston looked like nothing more than a tiny piece of importance in a massive game of chess. After a successful world title run that started at WrestleMania and lasted just under six months, it will be worth watching to see where Kingston goes from here.
- There was no better choice as a foil for The Rock than Baron Corbin.
The recently-crowned King Corbin was the subject of The Rock’s ridicule, and the crowd ate up every part of it.
WWE is especially careful when choosing its opposition for Dwayne Johnson, as it would be a bad look for all parties involved if one of Hollywood’s most marketable stars was booed on his home turf. Considering there was zero chance he was going to get cheered, Corbin was the perfect villain to stand across from The Rock.
Becky Lynch also shined in the segment, including an insult about Corbin’s testicles, adding some extra edge to the show.
- If Daniel Bryan doesn’t turn on Roman Reigns this Sunday at Hell in a Cell, then where does their story go next?
- Bray Wyatt’s “Firefly Fun House” foreshadowed the pain that will be inflicted upon Seth Rollins this Sunday at Hell in a Cell.
Wyatt’s captivating form of sadism was on display as he introduced Fox viewers to his eclectic Fun House characters. Ramblin’ Rabbit (RIP) and Mercy the Buzzard cosplayed, respectively, Rollins and Wyatt in a makeshift Hell in a Cell cage, which saw Mercy rip apart the rabbit.
Wyatt then appeared immediately after the start of the Rollins-Shinsuke Nakamura match, using his hell-forged hands to lock the Mandible Claw on Rollins. Wyatt belongs on Raw, but the question remains whether he will be on the show as its Universal champion.
- Kevin Owens defeated Shane McMahon in a ladder match that also included tables and chairs, effectively ending McMahon’s current on-screen role in WWE.
The storyline between Owens and McMahon appeared to have come to a satisfying end at SummerSlam, but it continued, seemingly without direction, for nearly two more months. The company has made the most of McMahon’s return to the ring, and he needs time off television before returning in a non-wrestling role. But he still delivered all of his greatest hits in the ring—as SmackDown wasn’t complete without a McMahon elbow drop from the top rope to the announce table, which highlighted the start of the show’s second hour.
WWE now needs to harness Owens’ momentum by having him challenge Brock Lesnar.
- Braun Strowman and professional boxer Tyson Fury started a new feud.
Fury was sitting ringside when he and Strowman exchanged words during an eight-man tag. The 6’9” Fury crossed the barricade, looking to attack Strowman, but security held him back.
But the biggest takeaway from that eight-man tag had nothing to do with Fury. Stuck in between seven other wrestlers stood A.J. Styles, the single greatest wrestler currently active in the business. Styles’s entrance was not even televised, which was the same case for everyone involved in the match with the exception of Strowman.
Styles deserved a bigger moment on the Fox premiere of SmackDown. But he lacks mainstream appeal, which hurt him here. Fortunately, he is simply too talented not to return to the world title picture, but a wrestler of his elite caliber needs a higher-profile place on the card.
- This marked one of the most exciting weeks in wrestling in years, and this Sunday’s Hell in a Cell only adds to that.
Raw, AEW’s Dynamite, NXT and SmackDown all added electricity to the week in wrestling, and every one of those shows was fun to watch. SmackDown played its part, delivering star power and a title change as WWE competes to remain atop an evolving industry.