By Jake Barnett
WWE Smackdown on USA Network
Aired live from Indianapolis, Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
A video package that recapped the long standing Wyatt and Orton feud was shown, capped off with the burning of Sister Abigail last week. Shane McMahon opened the show in the arena and walked to the ring. He was followed by Daniel Bryan. The announce team of Tom Phillips, JBL, Mauro Ranallo, and David Otunga said there was an open question as to whether the scheduled AJ Styles and Randy Orton match would take place. Shane and Bryan said they disagreed how to proceed. Bryan thought it should be Randy Orton, and Shane thought it should be AJ Styles. Bryan invoked tradition and said for the last 22 years the Royal Rumble winner has gone on to main event WrestleMania. Shane said never before had a wrestler abdicated his opportunity like Randy Orton had.
They showed footage of Orton from 3 weeks ago saying he refused to face Bray Wyatt. Shane then said that AJ Styles had earned an opportunity in the interim. Bryan then said that Orton then set their plans ablaze, and rolled footage of last week. They did some more humming and hawing, and polled the crowd. Seemed like the majority wanted Styles. They then announced that to settle their dispute, it wouldn’t be a debate, they would have a first ever matchup as the Smackdown Main Event, and booked AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton in the main event. Ellsworth and Carmella vs. Cena and Nikki Bella is advertised for next…[c]
My Take: They must have needed to pad this show out a little bit, as this segment could have easily happened backstage on a more packed show. I’m looking forward to the mixed tag, just to see how Miz and Maryse get involved.
Backstage, AJ Styles told Bryan and Shane they were making a huge mistake. He said he would make the best of a bad situation and take out Randy Orton, and that would be on them. He said he’s not afraid of a little fire, or a viper, and he certainly wasn’t afraid of them. In the ring, James Ellsworth called himself the Mack Daddy of Smackdown, and bragged that he beat AJ Styles in fewer attempts than it took John Cena. He then introduced Carmella. John Cena made his entrance, followed by Nikki Bella.
1. John Cena & Nikki Bella vs. James Ellsworth & Carmella: The Miz’s music hit right after the bell rung. He and Maryse walked down, which led to Carmella hitting Maryse with a superkick…[c]
Carmella remained in control until Nikki reversed an Irish Whip and tossed her to the outside. This prompted a tag to Cena, which forced Ellsworth into the ring. Ellsworth begged off, until Carmella shoved him into Cena and told him to be a man. Ellsworth tried a superkick, but got tossed with a prototype suplex. Carmella then got in his face, and Nikki hit her with a forearm. They then hit dueling five knuckle shuffles, AA’s, and applied STF’s to get the win.
Nikki Bella & John Cena defeated James Ellsworth & Carmella
Miz and Maryse assaulted both of them. Nikki was tossed into the ring post, and Cena was tossed into the steps. Miz got in the ring and took a shot at Cena and Nikki’s relationship. He said it was sham to further John Cena’s and Nikki Bella’s branding. He claimed Cena saw the success Miz and Maryse had as the “it couple” on WWE TV, and decided they wanted it for themselves. He said their relationship was an insult to people who spend their lives together because of live, and their plastic relationship ends now.
Backstage, Renee Young interviewed Randy Orton. He said he burnt Bray Wyatt’s compound to the ground last week, and if he’s capable of that, what is AJ Styles getting himself into tonight? Randy looked at Renee and told her that he’d do anything to get his hands on Bray at WrestleMania, and that if he were AJ he’d run.
My Take: They seem to be trying to walk the reality show line with Cena and The Miz. I don’t know if that angle will work, because most people still see through it, but it’s an attempt at doing something different at least. Cena and Nikki’s dueling offense was so obnoxious that I was happy to see Miz and Maryse shut them down. It gave the promo that followed more ammo than it should have.
In the ring, Curt Hawkins called out Dean Ambrose and said he started something last week that he can’t finish. Ambrose ran down to the ring and tried to attack Ambrose on the ramp, but ate a clothesline on the ramp. In the ring. Ambrose grabbed a mic and said he would call out Baron Corbin. He said that it was clear Corbin wouldn’t come out. He’s a neutered wolf rather than a lone wolf, because he doesn’t have any testicles. Corbin appeared on the tron and said he doesn’t come out when people call his name, and he’ll come beat up Ambrose and take his title whenever he feels like it. Ambrose said he figured that wouldn’t work, and said instead he would come to him. He hit Dirty Deeds on Curt Hawkins on the way to the back.
A video package celebrating Trish Stratus was shown. Dean Ambrose was then shown walking backstage…[c]
My Take: This really felt like padding. I understand why, but I think they need to ramp up the intensity now that we’re on the home stretch for Mania.
Ambrose was still wandering backstage. Mojo Rawley was interviewed backstage, and talked about his dream to have a WrestleMania Moment. He spoke about Zack Ryder having his moment last year, and then declared himself Smackdown’s first competitor on the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. Dolph Ziggler walked up and mocked Mojo for wanting a precious WrestleMania Moment, and told him not to hurt himself reaching for the brass ring.
Dean Ambrose continued wandering, and eventually got ambushed by Baron Corbin. He got hit with an aluminum pipe twice, and then the forks from a forklift lowered onto his chest. The refs and agents ran off Corbin and someone raised the forks to save Dean from having to pretend he was running out of air. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James made her entrance in the arena…[c]
My Take: The forklift spot was a bit awkward, but the attack worked overall. Ambrose didn’t look very prepared for a guy that went backstage looking for a fight, though. Ziggler’s character is essentially just being really bitter that he never made it to superstardom. It’s not making him any more interesting.
Alexa Bliss welcomed everyone to her Blissertation. She announced who her WrestleMania opponent wasn’t going to be. She made a bunch of bad jokes about Naomi, Carmella, Nikki Bella, and Becky Lynch at ate shit. The crowd didn’t find one of them funny. Lynch interrupted and said she was going to be the one who walks into WrestleMania and takes back her title. Naomi interrupted and said she and Alexa came to an understanding last week. She said they both agreed that they were Championship caliber and Becky was not.
Alexa dissed Nattie and said they had no agreement. She called her the worst there is, the worst there ever was, and the worst there ever will be. This segment is dying 1000 deaths. Mickie grabbed a mic and said the title shot should go to her. All four women argued and Nattie called Mickie ugly 10 times and finally Daniel Bryan saved them. He said backstage he and Shane gave the dissertation an F. He said they did find her comment that she was the greatest women’s wrestler on the Smackdown roster.
He then said that there was only one way to do that, and it’s have defend the championship against every available woman on the roster at WrestleMania. He then said he took some hints from Teddy Long and made a tag match between the four women for next…[c]
My Take: That segment was brutal. The crowd didn’t see the humor in it or react really at all. Becky Lynch probably got the most crowd involvement, but none of this was written or delivered particularly well. Bryan got them through it at the end, but the women looked really lost out there at times.
2. Alexa Bliss & Mickie James vs. Becky Lynch & Natalya: Natalya started the match with Bliss, and hit a seated dropkick before tagging Becky Lynch forcefully. Mickie tagged in as well, and they grappled mid ring. After a few standing switches, they went to some mat wrestling and counters. Lynch hit some arm drags and a single leg dropkick. Mickie fired back with a kick to the gut and pulled Becky towards the heel corner to tag in Alexa Bliss.
Alexa held onto control for a brief moment, but couldn’t shut down Lynch, who took her down with clothesline and hit two leg drops for a two count. Alexa rolled to the outside to regroup but Becky followed. Mickie pulled her legs out from under her as she got back in the ring, which led to Bliss taking back over…[c]
Mickie James held onto a headlock mid ring. Becky broke free and tossed Mickie into the corner, but ran into a boot to the face. Mickie hit a headscissors takeover and made a tag to Bliss. She choked Lynch on the ropes and covered for a two count. Becky tried to fight out of the corner, but Mickie tagged in and shut her down. She then applied a rear chinlock before backing Becky into the heel corner once again. Becky fought out of the corner and hit an enziguri on Bliss to set up a tag. Mickie tagged in first, and Becky refused to tag even though she had the chance. Becky fired up and hit clotheslines on Mickie. Natalya interfered and hit a release German Suplex. Alexa tagged herself in and covered to steal a win from James.
Alexa Bliss & Mickie James defeated Becky Lynch & Natalya
After the match, Mickie James hit a Mick Kick on Bliss and picked up the Championship belt before heading to the back. We got a recap on Dean Ambrose being crushed by a forklift, and everybody acted somber even it was a tough segment to buy into visually.
My Take: The announce team played up “Every Available Female”, which makes me think there are surprises in store. The match itself was tasked with filling too much time for the story they had to tell. There was a lot of stalling before they finally got around to the finish. It wasn’t badly wrestled, I just think they didn’t put enough match together for the amount of time they were expected to fill.
AJ Styles made his ring entrance. He grabbed a microphone and called Smackdown the house that AJ Styles built. He said he turned the B show into the A show and all he’s gotten from Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan is disrespect. He said Randy Orton burned down a man’s house and is getting rewarded. He said he knows who he is and why he’s there, and nobody is going to get the way of him making the WrestleMania main event phenomenal. Randy Orton then made his ring entrance….[c]
3. Randy Orton vs. AJ Styles: Orton went for an RKO early, but Styles bailed out. They felt each other out a bit and Styles applied a side headlock, and held on even through a back suplex. Orton broke free and hit a shoulder block that staggered Styles. They teased a test of strength, but Styles kicked Orton in the gut and hit a few punches. Orton reversed an Irish Whip and Styles went hard into the corner. Orton the dropped him ribs first on the top rope, and then put boots to him in the corner.
Styles hit some leg kicks that Randy Sold like he had a thigh cramp. It didn’t last, however, as he caught Styles out of the corner and hit an overhead exploder suplex that sent Styles rolling to the floor. Orton followed and dropped Styles on the barricade and tossed him into the ring. Styles hit a chop block on Orton’s cramped leg and the ref checked on him at ringside…[c]
Styles continued to attack the leg and Orton tried to fight him off. Styles tackled Orton and then applied a headlock. Orton fought out, and then hit two big clotheslines and a snap powerslam. Orton fired up the crowd and slapped at his leg. He hit a full nelson slam and covered Styles for a near fall. Orton then stomped on Style’s leg in the corner and placed him on the top rope. He landed several punches and then lined up for a superplex. Styles slipped out and dropped Orton head first on the turnbuckle pad.
He then hit an ushigoroshi and covered for a near fall of his own. Styles lined up for a Styles Clash, but Orton fought him off and dumped him out onto the apron. Orton then went for a draping DDT, but Styles fought out and locked in the calf crusher on his bad leg. Orton reached the ropes and Styles broke the hold.
Orton hit a draping DDT after knocking Styles off the ropes and got ready for an RKO. AJ responded with a pele kick. He then set up for a forearm. Orton looked for an RKO, but Styles anticipated and dropped back to the apron. Styles then went for a 450, but Orton moved. Orton then hit an RKO for the win.
Randy Orton defeated AJ Styles
After the bell, Styles looked dejected and Orton pointed to the WrestleMania sign.
My Take: A really good match with some good psychology. They didn’t push it as far as they could have in a big match situation, but this was a good teaser of what these two could be capable of if they were given the time and the opportunity. Orton going over here was the only thing that made sense, and it also ebbs with the storyline of Smackdown’s management running afoul of AJ Styles. So far, Smackdown’s contributions to WrestleMania feel a little underwhelming. Hopefully they can heat things up over the next few weeks.
The Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Frank Zarrillo discussing his film "The Wrestler: A QT Marshall Story", which includes appearances by Matt Riddle, Damian Priest, Gerald Brisco, Kevin Kelly, Steve Corino, and many more, the involvement of Marshall's wife and mother, and much more. Stick around after the interview for Powell's audio review of Wednesday's AEW Dynamite television show...