Reaction Zone - The element of surprise still works

On the July 4 Smackdown, AJ Styles won a battle royal to become the #1 contender for the U. S. title, at the time held by Kevin Owens. Owens attacked Styles after the match, but when AJ fought back, Owens retreated. The stage, supposedly, was set for Battleground on July 23.

Three nights later, Styles & Owens were among a small group of Smackdown talents added to a Raw team show at hallowed Madison Square Garden. With ratings being what they've been of late, you figure Vince McMahon needed to shake things up without having to activate himself to the main roster.

Mission accomplished. Styles defeated Owens to capture the US title. The footage likely will air on Tuesday, and the Battleground match will reset as Owens using his rematch clause, unless they flip the title back before Battleground.

So what does this tell us? Despite his own charisma, Owens just isn't moving tickets as US champ. That I don't get. Even though he's a heel, Owens projects as an average guy, a working class fellow providing for his family, and has enough of a presence to make you want to like him despite the heel character. After an extraordinary run with Chris Jericho as a sidekick, later foe, that should've moved Owens up the ladder, Owens seemed to have gone in the other direction. Something tells me that would have McMahon's fingerprints all over it.

Meanwhile, AJ now has the people behind him. Even as a heel, he had a large pocket of support from fans that have followed him from Ring of Honor to TNA to Japan to WWE. That support has grown over time, even though Styles was dissed by Uncreative in having to wrestle Smackdown commissioner Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania when he deserved to be in the World title picture. Styles, thankfully, has overcome that. The fact that Uncreative has repackaged John Cena as a "free agent", which is creative speak for a roving special attraction at the tail end of his career, has opened the door for Styles to be the #1 face on Smackdown, with Shinsuke Nakamura as 1A. No one bought Owens' "New face of America" gimmick, which was demeaning even to him. Now, Owens has to recover from that, and you have to believe he can.

The next move belongs to Raw. Everyone expects Brock Lesnar to retain the Universal title over Samoa Joe at Great Balls of Fire. Count ye scribe among the minority. Raw needs a Universal champion who can be a full-time presence, rather than have the Intercontinental title, currently held by a stale act like Miz, be the default #1 title on the show. Joe has been a champion everywhere he's been (ROH, TNA, NXT, etc.), and it makes more sense to have Joe be the new champ, and set him up to face Braun Strowman at Summerslam, or, if they really need to have Lesnar in the mix, along with Roman Reigns, make it a fatal 4-way elimination match. I'd rather see Joe vs. Braun, and save Braun vs. Brock for Survivor Series.

Then again, knowing who we're dealing with here........!

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