By this point, only the hopelessly gullible view WWE’s “season premieres” as anything other than a cheap promotional trick. After all, when did a show that runs every week of the year have a “season finale”? That bit of marketing sleight-of-hand notwithstanding, the company used the moment to make this week’s SmackDown feel a bit more consequential than usual.
For starters, Universal Champion Roman Reigns returned to television after a two-month sabbatical. That alone made this show feel noteworthy, even if he didn’t wrestle on the show. Instead, WWE used his screen time to set up a couple of big title matches.
With Cody Rhodes already scheduled to defend the Undisputed Tag Team Championship (with Jey Uso) on the show, the creative team took advantage of the opportunity to have the WrestleMania 39 opponents cross paths, reminding fans that, to paraphrase the late Kobe Bryant, the job’s not done for “The American Nightmare”.
What else happened on SmackDown?
LA Knight, on the other hand, grabbed “The Tribal Chief’s” more immediate attention. The slick-talking Marylander confronted Reigns at the start of SmackDown — indicating that he wanted a title shot — and punctuated his intentions with a win over Solo Sikoa in the main event.
It remains to be seen if WWE books a Knight/Reigns title match for its latest propaganda pay-per-view for the Saudi Arabian government or Survivor Series. Either way, it’s happening. Reigns only participates in a handful of matches during the year, and giving one of those premium spots to one of the most over babyfaces in the promotion is a layup.
The “season premiere” also introduced us to the new general manager of SmackDown and the brand’s newest roster member. After Triple H promoted Adam Pearce to Raw GM and entertained Dominik Mysterio and his empty-calorie heat, he announced Nick Aldis as the new man in charge of the Friday show. Shortly after, he revealed who came to SmackDown in exchange for Jey Uso: Kevin Owens, who power-walked to the ring and hit Mysterio with a stunner.
Aside from the fun novelty of two former NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champions “running” the respective main roster shows, Aldis is a good fit as a (hopefully) babyface authority figure. His pedigree as a wrestler gives him credibility with the fans and his understated charisma allows him to portray someone who commands respect without overshadowing the wrestlers.
As for Owens moving to SmackDown, it explains why he and Zayn got a shot at the tag belts on Monday. This allows WWE to temporarily split Zayn and Owens without doing another turn/feud with the two, giving it the option to reunite them when the time is right. For now, Triple H and company will have to find some heels for the popular former Universal Champion to face.
All of those tidbits don’t justify giving this show the “season premiere” label, and it certainly doesn’t make this the most must-see episode in SmackDown history, but it at least clarified the direction the company is taking for the fall and winter.