The Booker T era carries on and we get an answer on Sheamus knocking Alberto del Rio's foot off the ropes on what was a clean rope break. Sheamus is all smiles; Alberto is not.
To open the show, however, we have Randy Orton who faced del Rio on Monday. Sheamus cost ADR that match by helping the referee avoid missing another foot on the rope, this time belonging to Orton. Orton says he thrives on confrontation. ADR says that the win on Monday was tainted - Too bad. Orton lays claim to a World Heavyweight Championship shot, since he pinned the prior number one contender. Orton says if anyone has a problem with that, they can come to the ring and air their grievance. Instead of the expected ADR, Sheamus makes his way toward the ring to answer. Sheamus says that "Berty" has squandered his chances at the World Heavyweight Championship and makes light of beating him "fair and square" at Summerslam. Sheamus wants Orton at the front of the line for a title shot. Booker T makes his entrance to continue the conversation. Booker wants to talk about Monday and Alberto makes his appearance, sans music, to protest the ensuing result of the conversation.
Del Rio says that Sheamus is a cheater and Orton is a crazy animal. ADR interrupts Booker's answer and says he should be champion by now. Booker tries to continue and ADR interrupts again, repeating everything. Orton says ADR is embarrassing himself and Alberto calls "conspiracy" then turns his attention to Booker T. He thinks everyone is against him. Booker finally continues and says that Orton is always in line for title shots, but Alberto was next. "Was" being the key word; now that ADR came out running his mouth, Booker T has decided that ADR takes on Randy Orton for the number one contendership.
Long intro - Orton has never been as interesting on the mic as he is in the ring and ADR ran laps on his verbiage. It set the stage, but definitely took its time.
Michael Cole is alone on the announce table - Josh Matthews was injured by Kane at Summerslam and has the night off.
Match 1: Ryback vs Jinder Mahal
Winner: Ryback via pinfall
Teddy Long has joined Cole at commentary and Ryback has taken a microphone. Jinder will realize his place in the food chain tonight. Ryback gets a "Feed me more" chant going before Mahal enters. Mahal is on the attack early but Ryback grounds him with rapid hammerfists to the head. Mahal elbows out of the opposite corner and strikes away at Ryback, then escapes a powerslam attempt. Mahal delivers knees while he locks in a cravat then drops a knee. Mahal grounds Ryback with a jumping knee for a one count. Mahal delivers more boots and knees to keep Ryback down, until Ryback catches his foot and bounces him off the rope for a high back drop and shoulders in the corner. Ryback delivers a spin-out powerslam and a big lariat. Ryback calls for Shellshocked and lands it.
So Mahal has antagonized Ryback for weeks, just to be beaten in three minutes. More interesting with actual back and forth and Mahal looked smoother than usual. The crowd digs Ryback's shtick and this could mean a continued presence by Mahal on the main roster, as he was involved in the NXT Gold Rush tournament, ultimately losing to Seth Rollins.
Match 2: Alicia Fox vs Layla (Divas Champion), non-title
Winner: Layla via pinfall
Kaitlyn is the commentator for this match, as she is the new number one contender for the Divas title. Fox opens with a schoolgirl attempt and a headlock takeover. Layla rolls it through for a pinfall attempt, but Fox's shoulders won't stay down. Layla hits her double bounce cross body and Fox again manages to not quite be pinned for an odd count. Alicia answers with a dropkick for a nearfall. Layla wants another middle rope move, but Fox kicks her leg out from under her then works it over. Fox sets into a half crab, but Layla spins and kicks her way out. Layla rolls Fox up for two then whiffs a clothesline, but KO's Fox with a kick to the head.
Kaitlyn is supportive of Layla - It will be a face vs face confrontation for the title. Kaitlyn hits the ring to congratulate Layla and Eve enters to interrupt. Eve grabs the hands of both women and raises them. The girls sell confusion, as they should be. Eve is up to something, as usual.
Dolph Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero are in the back, reminiscing about sending Chris Jericho packing. Sheamus shows up and says he's itching for a fight - Maybe Ziggler should cash in tonight. Ziggler says he'll cash in on his own terms. Teddy Long will make a Ziggler/Sheamus match tonight; Ziggler can cash in if he chooses.
Match 3: Sin Cara vs Heath Slater
Winner: Heath Slater via pinfall
Cody Rhodes is at ringside with the silly "unmasked Sin Cara" caricature...and for commentary. Slater sneaks his way into a hammerlock, but Sin Cara escapes with a snapmare, then dropkicks Slater. Slater is elevated to the apron and whiffs an enzuigiri, then gets sent to the floor and tossed back in by Slater for a one count. Slater delivers elbows and settles into a chinlock that Cara fights out of, landing a springboard back elbow. Cara runs the top rope for a lucha arm drag, then a spinning plancha to the floor. Slater shoves Cara into the apron and the ref gets involved. Cody Rhodes gets up and turns Cara's mask around, blinding him. Slater capitalizes with his Reverse DDT (apparently now called E-Minor) for the win.
Rhodes hits the ring after Slater leaves and stomps away at Cara, then tries to remove the mask yet again. Rhodes says it's only a matter of time, after the refs break it up.
Match 4: Sheamus (World Heavyweight Champion) vs Dolph Ziggler, non-title
Winner: Sheamus via disqualification
Sheamus makes the entrance-less jobber entrance for some ungodly reason (actually, it's likely because his entrance was already on TV tonight). Ziggler gets introduced by Vickie and makes his way to the ring, briefcase in hand. This match's guest commentator is Vickie. Ziggler bails to the floor early then slides back in for a pair of big headlock takeovers. Sheamus runs Ziggler over, but runs into a dropkick for one. Ziggler locks in a chinlock as Vickie runs down AJ's job on Raw. Ziggler boots Sheamus in the face, but gets elevated and pancaked for one. Sheamus attacks in the corner and then counters White Noise with a sunset flip. Sheamus avoids the Namedropper and puts Dolph on the apron and wants forearms to the chest, but Dolph avoids then sweeps the leg. Ziggler hops up and DDTs the World Heavyweight Champion on the apron. Ziggler gets a two count then locks in another chinlock. Sheamus fights to his feet and delivers a belly to back suplex(side slam, as per Michael Cole) to break it up.
Ziggler wants a Sleeper, but Sheamus tosses him off and lands hammers, a shoulder and a knee lift. Sheamus tosses him to the apron and sets up for chest forearms. Back in the ring, Sheamus delivers White Noise and goes to the corner, calling for a Brough Kick. Ziggler dodges and takes the briefcase from Vickie, then wallops Sheamus with it for the DQ. Ziggler starts considering cashing in MITB and tells the ref. Sheamus slowly gets to his feet and Ziggler grabs the briefcase and runs before the bell rings, saving his contract. This gimmick of "almost cashing in" has been real interesting. Not only is it a great bit by the determined heel, but it allows for a bit of psychological warfare. Good stuff, but that's to be expected where Ziggler is involved. As for the match itself, it's the same Ziggler/Sheamus match we've seen over and over. Not necessarily a bad thing, just same old same old.
Santino Marella makes his way to the ring, after losing his US Title to Antonio Cesaro at Summerslam. Marella tells us how long he was US Champ, down to the second. Santino says that without the title, he feels less and less American. He's forgotten how apple pie tastes, apparently. Marella puts on the Cobra sock and wants to know if it is on the same page as him. Marella says the Cobra cost "them" the US Title and the Cobra is sad. Santino says what matters is how many times you get up after being knocked down. Santino quotes "Rocky" and gets the Cobra fired up for change. Santino says he and The Cobra will be US Champion again. Antonio Cesaro enters, as he apparently thinks differently. Cesaro finally has new music - It seems to match his old Kings of Wrestling music from his days as Claudio Castagnioli. Cesaro says "Winner" in five languages. Santino power walks at Cesaro and catches an attempted kick. Santino with jabs and readying the Cobra, but the Cobra actually drags him away and toward Aksana. This causes Marella to be kicked in the head by Cesaro. So now the Cobra is fully sentient?
Match 5: Primo and Epico vs Kofi Kingston and R-truth (Tag Team Champions), non-title
Winners: Kofi Kingston and R-Truth via pinfall
More non-title action on Smackdown, showing how shallow the tag division is. It's a shame that Tyler Reks is gone, breaking up Reks/Hawkins and that WWE is too dense to realize that Kidd/Gabriel could be an amazing team on TV that isn't "WWE Superstars". Young and O'Neal are at ringside for this one. Epico and Kofi start out quick with pinfall exchanges and ending in a dropkick to dropkick exchange. Primo tags in and boots away at Kofi, sweeps him and then tags Epico in to continue. Kofi comes up out of the corner and hurricanranas Epico into the turnbuckle. Tags on both sides and Truth comes in with a pair of clotheslines and a sitout gourdbuster. Epico breaks up the pinfall attempt, then tosses Kofi out. Truth tosses Primo out and then avoids the Backstabber. Truth delivers Little Jimmy and wins.
Standard issue short tag match. Primetime Players and Cole were actually quite entertaining at ringside and I at least got a kick out of Cole trying O'Neal's dog bark.
Kofi and Truth are interviewed by Striker in the back. Primetime Players show up to rain on the parade. The Usos show up to lay their claim, followed by Primo and Epico and, oddly enough, Gabriel and Kidd. This erupts into a big brawl between everyone. Nice to see Gabriel and Kidd acknowledged here, but it probably doesn't make any sense to people who don't watch the internet shows WWE puts out.
Booker T is in the back on the phone and Long enters to update Booker on the brawl. Booker asks who Long thinks deserves a title shot. Eve shows up with a win-loss record for all of the tag teams and a schedule for Booker. Eve is looking to outshine Teddy Long by sucking up to Booker. Eve/Long might be the longest running feud in WWE right now.
Match 6: Randy Orton vs Alberto del Rio, Winner is Number One Contender
Winner: Alberto del Rio via submission
Sheamus, of course, is the guest commentator for this match. ADR with a quick shoulder block for a one count, but Orton takes over with strikes and a schoolboy. Orton with a suplex off the ropes for another quick pin attempt. Next, Orton slingshots ADR across the bottom rope throat first for two. Alberto answers with kicks to Orton's arm, wanting the Cross Armbreaker early, but Orton spins it out to a neckbreaker. Del Rio slides to the floor as we roll to commercial.
Del Rio is back in charge on the return after slamming Orton's arm into the stairs. Orton fights up and out with a headbutt, but takes a knee to the gut and a jumping stomp. Del Rio kicks the back of Orton and gets a two count, then goes back to work on the arm. ADR wants a corner step up enzuigiri, but Orton ducks and nails a pair of clotheslines, followed by the snap powerslam. ADR avoids the usual follow up by running Orton's arm across the rope, but ends up running into the Orton backbreaker for two. ADR lands double knees to the arm for a two count of his own. Orton avoids another attempt at a Cross Armbreaker, but gets his arm kicked for his trouble. ADR jumps off the middle rope, right into an Orton dropkick for two. Orton counters a running ADR smoothly to the apron for the middle rope DDT and coils for the RKO. Del Rio grabs the top rope to avoid the RKO and rolls into a Cross Armbreaker and Randy Orton taps out clean.
Sheamus immediately gets to his feet and ADR shoves Ricardo to the mat so that he can take his shoe and throw it at Sheamus. Sheamus tackles ADR and Ricardo knocks him off, then gives ADR his other shoe to clobber Sheamus with. Dolph Ziggler's music hits and he high tails it to the ring to cash in, demanding the ref come in. Orton hits an RKO from behind, putting yet another stop to a Dolph Ziggler cash in attempt, one that had a damn good chance of being successful.
This match and aftermath - The heel who's a real threat, the face champion who has a score to settle, the tweener who only worries about himself and the up-and-comer with something to prove - was WWE at its best. Everything worked, everything was logical, everything advanced one or more feud points and there was no horsecrap turn around or decision reversal. Alberto del Rio made Randy Orton tap out because he is a force to be reckoned with. He didn't just "get" another World Title shot; he earned it. And Ziggler continues to be thwarted when he tries to cash in, but retaining his contract. This is one of the best show ending sequences WWE has given us in a long time and it's one of those shows that keeps that faint glimmer of hope alive that WWE is listening to the "hardcore" fan.
An average episode of Smackdown that picked up business and ended incredibly strong. More episodes like this would keep we "vocal minority" fans a lot happier. And it might actually net Vinny Mac some PPV buys, who knows.