By Jake Barnett
WWE Smackdown on USA Network
Aired live from Toledo, Ohio at Huntington Center
Daniel Bryan was about to take a bit from an apple when Miz walked up and said Toledo is a dump. He complained about not having a private dressing room, and said the other performers refused to clear the locker room for him and the first lady of WWE Maryse. He claimed to pay their salaries with his success. Miz asked what he was going to do about it, and Bryan offered to block off a stall in a public bathroom. Miz fake laughed, and the Bryan said he could have a rematch with Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship. Miz was surprised, and asked for a no DQ Match. Bryan balked, and said since he pays the salaries of all the male talent, he wouldn’t mind them at ringside. He then made it a lumberjack match.
The announce team introduced various clips that recapped Randy Orton joining the Wyatt Family, and the various moments that have led to tension between the three of them. This was all in service of laying the groundwork for Orton vs. Luke Harper later in the show. The Wyatt’s made their ring entrance for the opening match.
1. Randy Orton vs. Luke Harper: The crowd chanted for Orton as they locked up to begin the match. We got mostly psychology early with them trading off winning tests of strength in some tie ups. Orton got a big uppercut in and Harper rolled to the outside. Orton followed, and Harper kicked him in the gut. Orton turned things around quickly as they got back in the ring, hitting some clotheslines and a draping DDT. The match spilled outside again, and Orton hit a back suplex on Harper on the barricade, and then the announce table.
Orton fired up and played to the crowd, and turned around into a very convincing big boot. Both men were down on the floor, and Wyatt walked over and threw them both back in the ring so the match wouldn’t end on a count out…[c]
Harper climbed the ropes in the corner, but was met by Orton. They brawled, with Orton getting the better of it and hitting a superplex for a near fall. Orton got another close fall after a big clothesline. Harper fired back with a Michinoku driver for a two count, and a superkick for the same result. Harper lined up for a clothesline, and Orton tried to counter with an RKO, but Harper avoided it and rolled up Orton for two. He then tried for a discus clothesline, and this time ate an RKO from Orton. Randy then covered for the win.
Randy Orton defeated Luke Harper at 12:33
After the match, Wyatt entered the ring, and hit Sister Abigail on Luke Harper. Orton smirked, and then left with Wyatt towards the back. The announce team then rolled a video package that went over fallout from the Women’s steel cage match from last week. Mickie James was shown walking towards the ring from backstage…[c]
My Take: I like the show opening without an extended monologue. The match was fun and I thought Harper looked good in defeat. I don’t know exactly what this means for him yet, but we won’t have to wait long to find out with the Rumble on Sunday. Hopefully it means a chance at a singles run. The Becky Lynch and Alexa Bliss video package was well done. They deserve a victory lap after giving a strong effort in the main event last week. The nice part is that the cop out finish had a decent payoff.
The announce team plugged AJ Styles calling out John Cena later in the show. In the ring, Renee Young welcomed Mickie James to the ring. Renee said it’s been almost seven years since she’s been in WWE, and everyone was surprised to find out she was La Luchadora. She asked her why, and she gave her Resume of being a 5 time Women’s Champion and a former Divas Champion. Renee called her out for not answering the question, and Mickie said the fact that she needs to state her Resume is the answer.
She claimed that Becky Lynch and the rest of the revolution are trying to pretend that they are the first women’s athletes ever in the WWE, and that all of her accomplishments didn’t matter and never happened. She then claimed that they would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for Alexa Bliss, because she was the only woman fighting back against their lies. Mickie then went on to say that she wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Alexa, and she’s here to show that it’s not about the female revolution, it’s about the reinvention of Mickie James. Becky Lynch then interrupted and ran down to the ring. She tackled Mickie and landed punches on her, but Mickie escaped and ran out through the crowd. Becky tried to follow, but got blindsided by Alexa Bliss. Mickie hit a roundhouse kick back in the ring, and Alexa hit Twisted Bliss.
Mickie got on the Mic and said that Becky should have learned from Alexa a long time ago to be one step ahead….[c]
My Take: A solid return promo from Mickie, somewhat marred by obnoxious what chants that threw her off a bit at points. It’s to her credit that she was able to power through it and deliver a convincing heel promo in character. I like Becky walking into a buzzsaw here, because it’s a pretty valid criticism of her character that she never sees this stuff coming. It’s a chance for her to grow and that’s what you need to be a successful babyface.
The announce team plugged NXT Takeover and The Rumble, and then threw to some footage from last week of Carmella taking James Ellsworth shopping. She took him to a trendy men’s fashion store and wanted to give him a full makeover, and the rest of the segment was him trying on crappy ridiculous outfits. He insisted on trying on clothes that he picked out, and came up with a Godfather outfit, a Santa outfit, and some ugly 90s fashion jeans. She then picked out an outfit for him, and he looked like a Jersey Shore extra. She loved that. Baron Corbin made his entrance in the building…[c]
My Take: Ellsworth was better when AJ Styles was killing him every week.
The next match is a 10 man Battle Royal, with the winner entering the Rumble. Barcon Corbin was on commentary.
2. 10-man Battle Royal: Right away Rhyno tried to eliminate Heath Slater, but he saved himself. The Vaudevillains both got dumped over immediately. The remaining talents are Slater and Rhyno, Mojo Rawley, Curt Hawkins, The Ascension, and Breezango. Mojo Rawley kicked Curt Hawkins out of the ring, and then Heath Slater eliminated Viktor of the Ascension. Viktor held onto his legs, and then Konnor bumped Slater off the apron. Rawley and Breezango then eliminated Konnor and Rhyno as they both fought against the ropes.
Mojo, Tyler Breeze, and Fandango Remained. Rawley pulled Fandango into the path of a superkick, and then eliminated him. Rawley then back body dropped Breeze over the top for the win.
Mojo Rawley earns a spot in the Royal Rumble at 4:22.
The announce team threw to an interview between Dasha Fuentes and Nikki Bella. She was interviewed in a loading area next to a truck with her face on it next to John Cena’s. Dasha said Natalya thinks John Cena is the reason for her success, and Nikki said that was unfortunate because she hears it all the time, but John has nothing to do with it. Natalya then walked up and said she doesn’t see her face on any trucks, and Natalya attempted to hit her with a lariat. Nattie ducked, and threw Nikki into her face on the truck. AJ Styles calling out John Cena was hyped for next…[c]
My Take: The Battle Royal felt like a house show match. The Nikki and Nattie program feels like a repeat of ground already well covered by Carmella. I don’t see the point of it, other than to give Nikki something to do while she awaits her chance at the Smackdown Women’s Championship.
John Cena was announced to be hosting the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards. AJ Styles made his entrance in the arena. Footage was shown of Cena getting the better of Styles with an AA on last week’s show.
Styles mean mugged in the ring, and said before he calls out John Cena, he has to get something off his chest. He said he thought he wouldn’t have to put up with this as WWE Champion, and then showed the Royal Rumble poster where he isn’t prominently featured, but John Cena is. He dogged Shane McMahon for not showing any respect to his Champion. He began to speak, but then paused to call out John Cena first. Cena obliged, wearing Florida Gators colors and camo pants.
Cena began to talk, but Styles shut him up and said everyone has heard enough of his Rah Rah speeches. He then introduced a clip of John Cena on the Today Show, with the hosts running down Styles as some guy from Atlanta. Styles told Cena he seems to have forgotten who he is, and said he is the unbeatable, unstoppable champ that’s been holding it down since he’s been gone. Styles said nobody missed him, because he didn’t just take his place, he’s the face that replaced him. Styles said he’s the man on Smackdown Live, and he knows it’s eats him up because he knows Styles is the better man in the ring. He knows that because every time Styles beat him, he had an excuse.
Styles said that the only excuse left is Cena, and he then called Cena a sorry excuse for a wrestler. He pointed out Cena’s Shirt that said respect, and wondered what he had to do to get some around here. He said he’s fought for every inch in the WWE, and at the Royal Rumble he’s taking a foot and shoving it up his ass.
Cena responded and said that Styles is crying about a poster, and somebody on a morning show said something bad about him. He told Styles that he’s been hot for six months, but Cena held the place down for well over a decade. Cena said that Styles isn’t on his level, or even the level below him, and when he fails to make it in WWE, he’ll blame it on Cena because he buried him. He went on to say that Styles thinks he’s a sad excuse for a wrestler because he’s didn’t put in time on the indie scene, but that’s because he wasn’t built for the indie scene, he was built for the WWE and big moments like Sunday. He said Styles only had the Championship because he let him, and said on Sunday would’t be a guy from Atlanta, he’d just be a guy. He then did his recognize bit and left up the ramp.
My Take: Cena had much better material here, and it’s pretty obvious at this point that AJ Styles is headed into a program with Shane McMahon. I doubt that’s over the WWE Championship, so I’m assuming he either loses on Sunday or in the Elimination Chamber. I honestly hope the rumors swirling about Vince exerting his influence strongly on the Smackdown matches at Mania isn’t true, but it certainly feels that way given how this promo went.
Kalisto is in the ring, followed by Dolph Ziggler’s entrance. Footage was shown of the segment with Jerry Lawler last week.
3. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kalisto: Dolph went for a clothesline early, but Kalisto escaped with a backflip and hit a kick. He then went for a springboard move, but he rotated into a Ziggler superkick. Dolph covered for the win.
Dolph Ziggler defeated Kalisto at 0:25.
Ziggler rolled to the floor and grabbed a chair. JBL jawed with him, and then Apollo Crews attacked him from behind. Crews tried to attack him with the chair, but hit the post instead. Crews checked on Kalisto as Ziggler retreated. Natalya vs. Naomi was hyped for next…[c]
My Take: Ziggler gets a heel turn, but has the stuck in the midcard blues. He needs a more thorough repackaging with new music and gear.
Naomi made her entrance. Natalya music hit, but she didn’t appear. Backstage, Nikki Bella was shown in a Brawl with Natalya. They were separated by referees. Naomi grabbed a mic and said she came back to Smackdown Live because it’s a land of opportunity. She then made an open challenge to any woman in the back. Alexa Bliss then walked out, but said she wasn’t out there to answer a challenge. She said she hasn’t been on TV in 3 months, and the better question is who does she think she is. Naomi said she would snatch her blonde head bald, and send her walking around like Mr. Clean. She then said Alexa was looking at the next Women’s Champion. Alexa initially acted as if she would give her a title shot, but instead backed away and told her to say hi to obscurity…[c]
My Take: Naomi really isn’t ready for the spotlight on the microphone yet. She delivered the lines, but it sounded a bit awkward. I’m interested to see if they are actually going to setup a Women’s Elimination Chamber match.
Dean Ambrose was asked backstage about his strategy for the lumberjack match. He said he was going to trust his instincts, which are telling him to break The Miz’s nose and smash his head into the mat to retain his Intercontinental Championship. The Miz made his entrance in the ring, followed by the Smackdown Men’s roster…[c]
A Six Woman Tag Team Match was announced for the Royal Rumble. Becky, Naomi, and Nikki will take on Alexa Bliss, Mickie James, and Natalya. Exactly the number required for a Chamber Match. Weird. Dean Ambrose made his entrance.
4. Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz: They brawled straight away and Miz quickly sent Ambrose to the outside. He was able to get back in before he took any abuse. Miz sent him out again quickly, and Ambrose took out Tyler Breeze and Fandango before getting back in. Ambrose tried unsuccessfully a couple of times for Dirty Deeds, but was able to clothesline Miz to the outside, where he got dogpiled by most of the roster….[c]
Miz went for a Superplex, but couldn’t pull it off. Ambrose knocked him down and jumped into the ring. He went for a lunatic lariat, but the lumberjacks pulled him to the outside and put a beating on him. Miz threw him to the outside again quickly, and egged on the roster to attack him. Some did, but others just grabbed him and tossed him in the ring. Miz hit Yes Kicks, but failed to hit the last one and got rolled up for two. Ambrose got to his feet for some slaps and chops, but got low bridged to the outside.
Ambrose fought off the lumberjacks and climbed to the top for an elbow on Miz. He then clotheslined Miz to the floor, and followed up with a Suicide Dive. They brawled on top of the announce table until lumberjacks pulled Ambrose away. Miz got back in the ring, and hit Ambrose with a flying knee as he got back in for a two count. He then hit some dropkicks in the corner, but missed the last one and got tossed back to the floor. Miz tried to escape through the crowd, but was stopped. Ambrose then came off the top with an elbow. He hit a lunatic lariat on Miz in the ring, and Baron Corbin broke up the fall.
The match broke down with everybody entering and then clearing very quickly. Ambrose low bridged Baron Corbin out of the ring. Miz then rolled him up for a close near fall. Ambrose quickly hit Dirty Deeds and covered for the win.
Dean Ambrose defeated The Miz at 14:15.
Ambrose celebrated in the ring as The Miz nursed his wounds to close the show.
My Take: A rather formulaic close to the show given it’s Rumble week. The Lumberjack stipulation gave away the big show closing brawl, and it looks like they are setting up Ambrose vs. Corbin for the future, as they focused on it several times during this match. Overall, this show clicked in a couple of places, and missed in some others. I liked the opening match and, and the work of Bliss/James/Lynch, but the segments with Nikki, Carmella, and James Ellsworth didn’t quite make par. The Battle Royal had so little star power, that you wondered why they didn’t just have it on a house show. Cena and Styles are far and away the best thing about the show, but you can feel the pendulum swinging away from Styles as we get closer to WrestleMania season and Vince gets nervous about new stars being able to carry the show. I hope I’m wrong, but this feels like it could be one more year of part time Stars getting the biggest paydays of the year.