Women take center stage as Carmella takes down Asuka, Lynch bests Flair on SmackDown

After making the two Money in the Bank ladder matches the central focus of SmackDown over the last month, the SmackDown women's championship rivalry between Carmella and Asuka took some of the spotlight on Tuesday night. Courtesy of WWE

It was a welcome site, even if she drives you mad.

As SmackDown Live hit the air Tuesday night, champion Carmella's music hit and she strutted down to the ring to offer a few fighting words geared toward Asuka, her upcoming opponent at Money in the Bank.

It's not as though the women have been completely overlooked in recent weeks on SmackDown, but the idea that they have been remotely close to equal footing as the men has been lost for some time. The women's championship has taken a back seat to the WWE championship and both Money in the Bank ladder matches, and that's to be expected as it's one of the biggest spectacles of the year.

The truth is, if you haven't been paying close attention, you might have forgotten Carmella and Asuka are headed toward a showdown on June 17 in a match that could change the landscape of the SmackDown women's division. There has been virtually no heat between the two since the match was announced, which is why Tuesday's show was an important step in at least trying to establish a plausible premise.

It wasn't as if Carmella's approach of late has had any semblance of originality; she used the opening segment to exploit Asuka's unexpected losses in her time on the main roster, and to get under her skin. As Carmella and Asuka stood in the ring ready to further engage in a verbal (and perhaps physical) altercation, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville interrupted, declaring their aspirations for a piece of The Empress.

Spurred on by general manager and former Absolution teammate Paige, Asuka announced she would take both Rose and Deville on in a handicap match, one that Asuka ultimately won. Afterward, Carmella jumped back into the ring to attack her upcoming challenger. Did we say lack of heat? Well, there is at least some now.

While it was somewhat predictable, the spotlight was squarely on Asuka and Carmella in a way that made their narrative seem as important, at least for a few moments, as what's happening in an overloaded time for the men. Considering the rest of the night's action, the focus on the SmackDown women's division was a breath of fresh air.

Later in the night, Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch faced off in a bout that had more or less a soccer friendly feel. At one point, you might have thought they were working on a synchronized gymnastics routine. It was a short match with a handful of decent spots, but it ended notably as Lynch won cleanly with a Dis-Arm-Her, continuing her renaissance in recent weeks.

Afterward, there was an awkward, silent moment that made us wonder whether Flair might take out her frustrations on Lynch, but alas, they embraced. But keep that moment in the back of your mind once we hit Money in the Bank, and afterwards.

Like the opening segment, Flair and Lynch didn't exactly do anything jarring or advance the narrative in some dramatically new direction as Money in the Bank approaches, but the visibility did offer us a reminder that the women have a lot riding in the line at the upcoming pay-per-view -- and the fallout will matter.

New Day steal the show again

Their talent often gets lost amid their irreverence, but The New Day put on the show of the night Tuesday, taking out a formidable threesome of Money in the Bank entrants -- Rusev, Samoa Joe and The Miz. It was the second straight week that a fairly straightforward New Day six-man tag team match offered some of the biggest highlights of the night.

There was one sequence in particular in this match that pretty much sums up their collective athletic prowess. Xavier Woods successfully landed a 360 splash over the top rope on Rusev; Kofi Kingston stood on the top rope and leaped backwards to flatten Joe; and Big E dove through the middle rope with all his might to knock out The Miz.

The excitement with this trio rarely wanes. In the end, Rusev and Joe had enough of The Miz's antics after he accidently tossed pancakes at them and leveled their partner, allowing The New Day to convert a Midnight Hour for the win.

It was a really impressive effort, which begs the question -- which member of the team is going to get the nod at Money in the Bank? Will we find out next week? Will it be a surprise come June 17? Will there be any tension between the New Day? Will all three play a role in the match? Or, like we saw in the Braun Strowman's mystery-partner saga at WrestleMania, will it be a lighthearted, even foolish, conclusion?

Hits & misses

- Even though Harper dominated Karl Anderson, it seemed all but necessary that Anderson pick up a fluke win, if only to make us believe for a moment he and partner Luke Gallows have a shot to win the tag-team titles at Money in the Bank. But c'mon, we all know this is a mismatch. Harper dominated the match Tuesday, and it's hard to expect anything less in a couple weeks' time.

- Naomi and Jimmy Uso were explosive in a mixed tag-team win, beating Aiden English and Lana. Naomi in particular showcased why she was given the opportunity to hold the SmackDown women's belt a year ago, and why she should remain a contender moving forward. But in the immediacy, I think they'd give the Bludgeon Brothers more of a match than Gallows & Anderson. Just sayin'.

- Why do we have contract signings anymore? Is there anything even remotely fascinating or unique about it? Yes, it was interesting that AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura signed their Money in the Bank contract in a backstage office instead of in the middle of the ring. But did Styles' losing his gasket and slapping Nakamura offer any more heat or advance the storyline? Not so much. Can't believe I'm saying this, but it's time to put this rivalry to rest.

- It feels like we've been piling on poor Big Cass, but the truth is, it's hard to find any silver lining in his trite "I am huge, you are small, Daniel Bryan" promos. Is there really nothing more compelling the creative team can come up with? Cass is not doing himself any favors in the long run. Not that he wants to harken back to his days with Enzo Amore, but Cass is much better when someone else is dictating the rhetoric and the storyline in general while he serves as the muscle. The problem is there just doesn't seem like there is a natural partner for Cass on the SmackDown roster at the moment.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, even though most fans didn't get to see it, Bryan cut a fiery response in an online-exclusive video.

- Looking forward to seeing what Andrade 'Cien' Almas can do next week against Sin Cara when they meet on SmackDown. It'll be the former NXT champ's first moderately stern test, and while there is no chance he'll lose, it should provide mainstream WWE fans who are still unfamiliar a better idea of Almas' upside.