WWE Smackdown: John Cena returns, challenges Rusev

By Wade Sheridan  |  July 5, 2017 at 7:51 AM
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July 5 (UPI) -- John Cena made his return to WWE Tuesday during a special July 4th edition of Smackdown Live.

Cena who has been missing in action since April when he became engaged to his girlfriend Nikki Bella at WrestleMania, kicked off Smackdown Live with a passionate speech in which he declared himself a free agent able to take on competitors from both Raw and Smackdown.

The 16-time World Heavyweight Champion then listed top WWE Superstars that he would like to face in the ring including AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, United States Champion Kevin Owens, Randy Orton, WWE Champion Jinder Mahal, Seth Rollins, Samoa Joe, Universal Champion Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns.

Cena's address was cut short by a returning Rusev, who had yet to appear on Smackdown Live following the Superstar Shake-Up in April. Rusev, with a Bulgarian flag in hand, then proceeded to degrade Cena and the United States.

Never one to back down from a fight, Cena challenged Rusev to a Flag Match to take place that night which the Bulgarian Brute declined claiming that he would fight Cena on his time. WWE announced that the Flag Match would take place at the next Smackdown pay-per-view event, Battleground on July 23.

Also on Smackdown Live, Styles won a special Independence Day Battle Royal to become the No. 1 contender for Owens' United States Championship. Key moments from the bout included Mojo Roawley eliminating his own Hype Bros tag team partner Zack Ryder and the showdown between the final three contestants, Styles, Sami Zayn and Tye Dillinger.

After Zayn threw Dillinger out of the ring, The Underdog from the Underground was eliminated by Styles who delivered a Pele Kick for the victory. The Phenomenal One's celebration was cut short by Owens who rushed to the ring and attacked Styles from behind.

Styles was able to recover, however, and fight off the self-proclaimed New Face of America who quickly exited the ring. Styles then held up the United States Championship in celebration.

Other highlights from Smackdown Live included Styles defeating Chad Gable to gain entry into the Battle Royal; Ms. Money in the Bank Carmella and her side-piece James Ellsworth having a Carmellabration that was cut short by Smackdown general manager Daniel Bryan who proceeded to bar Ellsworth from the arena, fine him $10,000 and suspend him without pay for 30 days; Smackdown Women's Champion Naomi defeating Lana; Baron Corbin attacking Nakamura backstage; Orton getting disqualified against Aiden English before verbally sparring with Mahal; and The New Day taking on Smackdown Tag Team Champions The Usos in a rap battle hosted by Wale.

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