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– by Tim Jousma

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WWE Smackdown Live! emanated from Jacksonville, Florida tonight. The show saw the contract signing between AJ Styles and John Cena for the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble. We saw Natalya give a rather horrendous promo in the ring which resulted in Nikki Bella slugging her. And we ended the show with The Miz vs Dean Ambrose facing off for the Intercontinental Championship.

I can’t say enough about the final match. While it won’t go down as a modern day Flair vs Steamboat, Ambrose and The Miz played their parts beautifully. The Miz in particular has really grown as a heel this past year, getting much better in the ring as well as on the mic. To me, it seems like he’s finally found just what it takes to get under people’s skin in the right way. In a lot of ways he’s emulating the type of character Ric Flair played so well back inthe day. You want to see him get his butt kicked in the ring week in and week out. He goes out of his way to take advantage of any and all opportunities he can to win a match, yet when the referee counts three, you still believe that he has the skills to be the champ.

He is the type of champion Kevin Owens should be. A bad guy in wrestling is supposed to cut corners yet if he’s constantly portrayed as weak, you’re not going to suspend your disbelief when he faces an opponent. You’re going to assume he will lose and you find yourself sitting back wondering when the match will end. Yet with The Miz, they’ve given him enough of a win streak to make his loss tonight mean something. You’re relieved and happy that in this case Dean Ambrose was finally able to stop The Miz from weaseling his way to another win.

This was a pretty no nonsense episode of Smackdown Live!. Last week, the show beat Monday Night Raw in the ratings for the first time ever which really says a lot. While I have certainly been critical of the show, and will continue to be critical, Smackdown Live! is proving that by making things a little more simple, they can excite fans again. If you get a chance to see a replay of the show, this was a must watch episode.