By Will Pruett
Smackdown’s “Wildcard” finale of 2016 might have been my favorite wrestling show of the year. It included everything I would want from a major show. It had high stakes matches, important beginnings and endings, continuing logical stories, and a surprise or two.
Kicking the show off with the return of John Cena brought the energy and excitement one hopes for from a major show. This version of John Cena was different from what we’ve seen in the past. Cena was affected by the losses he suffered in 2016. He was actually upset about them. While his message of never giving up continued to resound, it was tainted with frustration and determination. This wasn’t happy-go-lucky John, this was an angry and determined version of Cena. It was a welcome change from what we’ve seen in the past.
The first match of the show offered the biggest surprise of the night with American Alpha capturing Smackdown’s Tag Team Championships by pinning The Wyatt Family’s Randy Orton. This came at the end of a four-way elimination match also featuring Slater and Rhyno and The Usos. Color me shocked by this ending. I enjoyed the home stretch of the match and hope it leads to more Wyatts vs. Alpha encounters.
I’m a little disappointed in not getting a major stereotypical babyface chase for Gable and Jordan (and more disappointed by the overall lack of development for these two since July), but I’ll withhold judgement for now. It gave this show a major shocking moment and it gave Alpha a big win to establish themselves. Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, and Luke Harper have more than enough credibility to give the titles to Alpha for now.
The continuing story of Dean Ambrose and The Miz also featuring Renee Young and Maryse was well handled. We were given a little bit of development without too much going on. The same goes for Natalya’s ongoing story with Nikki Bella. These stories were weaved into the show without anything major occurring. It didn’t feel like Smackdown gave us all of its big moments in one night.
Alexa Bliss’ Womens Championship defense against Becky Lynch was a delightful match (that served to highlight just how good Bliss is) with a feud-continuing finish. The “La Luchadora” interference adds a little mystery and gives Becky a path to vengeance. This felt like a major coming out party for Bliss, who is quite good. She isn’t mentioned enough when we talk about women to come out of the NXT system.
Speaking of coming out parties, how great did Baron Corbin look in the main event of this show? Once again, we saw what quality opponents and hard work can do for a less experienced wrestler. AJ Styles and Dolph Ziggler deserve credit for making Corbin look great, but it would be wrong not to commend Corbin’s performance. It took all three men to make this a delightful main event match.
The most important development on this show had to be the restart of the AJ Styles and John Cena feud. This was the most important feud on Smackdown when the show began its current incarnation (post-draft) and it continues to be. Styles and Cena having a showdown at the Royal Rumble is, for me, the most compelling reason to watch the Rumble. Forget Goldberg and Lesnar, I’m all about this WWE Championship match.
From beginning to end, this episode of Smackdown delivered. This show was above the quality Smackdown gives us on a weekly basis, but it wasn’t significantly above. This show was built to in a compelling way over the last few weeks. It was like a mini-pay-per-view.
It was also a great use of talent WWE has access to on a regular basis. WWE has grown reliant on part time stars to build up major shows. Goldberg and Brock Lesnar are the selling points of the Rumble. Undertaker always rolls in for WrestleMania. Shane McMahon had to throw a jersey on for Survivor Series. WWE’s overall creative machine constantly tells us only part time wrestlers matter.
This was a show with only one guest star, John Cena. It used him effectively, but it was built around major matches with major consequences featuring stars who appear weekly. This is why I believe this was one of the best WWE shows of the year. For me, the quality was more dependent on what wasn’t on the show than what was.
If you aren’t watching Smackdown on a weekly basis, you’re missing the best wrestling show going right now. If you need a point to jump into Smackdown, this is a great episode to start with.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @wilpruett, leave a comment, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.