By Jake Barnett
WWE Smackdown on USA Network
Aired live from Richmond, Virginia at Richmond Coliseum
Daniel Bryan made his entrance to start the show. A contract signing table and chairs was set up in the ring. Bryan soaked in some chants before energetically asking the crowd if they were ready for WrestleMania. A yes chant erupted as Bryan started the contract signing by inviting Shane McMahon to the ring. JBL, Tom Phillips, and David Otunga argued about whether Shane was fearless or stupid. Bryan then invited AJ to the ring, who came out in full ring gear.
They sat in silence while AJ Styles got chants from the crowd. Shane broke the silence and layed out his philosophy for creating the New Smackdown as a land of opportunity where management wouldn’t push their own agendas. He called a plays where anybody could tune in and families could be entertained. Shane then complemented AJ, and called him one of the greatest competitors ever to step in the ring. AJ was surprised and agreed with him. The crowd chanted for Styles and Shane congratulated him on his accomplishments in the last year.
He then turned the tables and talked about how AJ’s arrogance had cost him the WWE Championship and his opportunity against Randy Orton. Shane said he always takes people to the limit, and if he underestimates him, he would have to watch his hand get raised at WrestleMania. They both then signed the contract. AJ grabbed the mic and said that they were having a traditional match, and that meant no tables or cages for him to jump through or off of. He told Shane he would embarrass him at every level, and that no matter how many legends he’s been in the ring with, he’s never been in the ring with anyone like AJ Styles.
Styles called himself the best overall performer in WWE, and at WrestleMania he would should him how phenomenal he really is. They both stood up and teased a brawl, but Bryan got between them and told them to shake hands. Styles refused and walked up the ramp telling Shane that he owned him at WrestleMania.
Becky Lynch vs. Carmella is set for next. More Miz Total Bella’s skits are coming up later…[c]
My Take: A decent, but not great go home for this feud. Both promos felt a little underwhelming, and I can’t help but feel that it had a lot to do with how quick they had to put this together. There just wasn’t enough time to build up real anticipation or animosity.
Becky Lynch made her entrance. Alexa Bliss and Mickie James joined on commentary. Ellsworth’s music hit and he gave an introduction for Carmella. He called himself an awesome physical specimen and did Carmella’s fabulous shtick.
1. Carmella vs. Becky Lynch: Carmella begged off early and got out on the apron and gave Ellsworth her chewing gum. He put it in his mouth, which is a health code violation I’m pretty sure. Carmella used the ropes to choke Becky early on, and covered for a one count. Becky hit an enziguri while the show focused on Alexa and Mickie bickered on commentary. They eventually came to blows on the outside. Ellsworth got out of Dodge as they spilled into the ring. Things broke down and the match went to a no contest almost immediately.
The Match ended in no contest at 2:22.
Mickie and Becky were in the ring together and Mickie pointed to the WrestleMania sign. Things point to a tag match after the break…[c]
2. Alexa Bliss & Carmella vs. Mickie James & Becky Lynch: Becky and Mickie traded offense on Bliss, who made a hard tag to a very angry Carmella. Using some ref distractions, the heels took over on Mickie James and worked her over in their corner. Bliss grabbed rest hold and Mickie attempted to fight away for a tag, but Bliss hut her down with a hair pull. Mickie surprised her with a rollup, but Bliss kicked out and hit a forearm shot. Natalya’s music hit and she made her entrance mid match…[c]
Natalya joined on commentary as Alexa Bliss continued the assault on Mickie James. James broke free with a neckbreaker and made a hot tag to Becky Lynch. Bliss tagged as well. Becky hit Carmell with several clotheslines and a forearm strike in the corner. Natalya interfered to go after Becky Lynch, but it was Ellsworth who paid dividends by grabbing her legs as she bounced off the ropes. Carmella then rolled her up for the win.
Alexa Bliss & Carmella defeated Mickie James & Becky Lynch at 7:03.
After the match, the heels beat down Becky Lynch and Mickie James. Naomi’s music hit and she ran down and hit a head scissors on Nattie. She then cleared Bliss and Carmella from the ring. Naomi grabbed a mic and said she was back, and announced she was entering the Women’s Title match at WrestleMania. Her music hit and they forgot to hit her black light for a bit, so she was mostly dancing in the dark…
Backstage, Breezy Bella asked for a shot at the Women’s Championship, but Bryan just laughed him off. Fandango walked up, and Bryan offered them spots in the Andre the Giant Battle Royal. He said there was a 10-man Tag later with some of the competitors, and booked them in the last remaining spots. We then got a Pete Rose WrestleMania rewind. The Miz’s Total Bella’s skit is next…[c]
My Take: I’m glad to see Naomi back. Her injury derailed what could have been a nice story about her carrying her first Championship Reign into her home town at WrestleMania, but at least this way she doesn’t miss the show. The rest of the Women’s division feels lost at this point. It was much better with individual feuds, but WWE’s habit of getting everyone on the show no matter how it affects stories made them a casualty this year.
The Miz’s music hit, and he and Maryse made their way to the ring. Miz welcomed everyone to MizTV, and then presented the conclusion to their Total Bella’s sketches from last week. John complained about Nikki being late to dinner and violating John Cena’s house rules. Daniel Bryan and Brie joined them at dinner. Cena’s cue cards were clearly visible. Miz played Bryan, except his impression was standing on his knees and doing yes chants.
Brie showed off her ring and and pretended it was the only way she could tell them apart. Cena tried to make everyone shut up while they were eating, and gave them a time limit to finish their food. Nikki interrupted and broke the rule, which led to another proposal gag where Cena asked her to make him the happiest man in the world by taking his rules seriously. Nikki then proposed to him. They used this as a cliffhanger and cut to a commercial…[c]
Miz and Maryse threw to the conclusion as the show got back. Cena turned down her proposal, and said that he only keeps her around to boost his image. He said he hustles the fans into thinking he’s someone he isn’t, he’s loyal only to himself, and he only respects people who do what he says when he says it. He said he won’t marry her because he doesn’t love her, and after WrestleMania he doesn’t want her around to remind him of his failure to defeat Miz and Maryse.
They both took off their costumes and looked at the camera. Miz said without WWE Cena is a circus act, a big ape walking the streets with nowhere to go. He told him to enjoy his red carpets and kids choice awards, because after WWE he would be nothing. Maryse said Nikki should enjoy being around kids, because she’ll never get them from Cena. Miz then said that after they embarrass Cena and Nikki at WrestleMania, they’ll have nothing left but their empty lives together.
Cena and Nikki made their entrance in the arena and immediately tore into Miz and Maryse. He called Maryse a waste of space who did nothing during her first run with the company. He said Nikki didn’t have to stop WWE from hiring her back, because they didn’t want her back. He then said Miz has been the WWE ten years and those sketches might be the best thing he’s ever done there. He then asked Miz if he was firing blanks, because they’ve been married for years and they don’t have any kids either.
He the got fired up and told Maryse that he doesn’t know what she does there, and that she’s a waste of space stealing a paycheck. He told the Miz that he memorized all of his house rules, but never memorized the one rule that matters in WWE. If you want to talk tough, you better be tough, but told Miz he is a pussy. He then called them the Shhhhh it couple. Cena then said that they weren’t going to be in the match of their lives on Sunday, they were going to destroy Miz and Maryse and it wasn’t even going to be close. He said they were sold out in Richmond, and the fans wanted to see some action, and demanded they step up.
Miz and Maryse backed down and walked out of the ring. Cena called them gutless and questioned whether Miz was firing blanks of if he had anything to fire with. Nikki grabbed the mic and got the last word by saying that there would be nowhere to run at WrestleMania and they were coming to kick their ass…[c]
My Take: Wow. That was a long segment. I can’t say I was that impressed by the feud. Some of the Total Bella’s jokes were comical, but once things got serious it became a bit of a scorched earth approach that left me liking both teams less than when I started. The feel good story here is Cena asking his long time girlfriend to marry him, but they didn’t really succeed in humanizing Cena much. He might be right about Miz and Maryse, but he came off like an asshole.
3. American Alpha & Mojo Rawley & Slater & Rhyno vs. The Usos & Breezango & Dolph Ziggler: Ziggler got abused by the babyface team to start the match. Rhyno went for a gore, but Breezango had to to pull him from the ring…[c]
Breezango interfered and knocked Chad Gable off the top rope. Giving Jey Uso an opening to isolate him in the heel corner. Fandango tagged in and hit some strikes and threw Gable hard into the corner and covered for a near fall. Jimmy Uso bounced off the corner post as Gable cleared out of the corner. This gave Gabe a window, but Jey Uso shut it down. After a back suplex, Gable made a tag to Mojo Rawley, who cleared all the heels but Tyler Breeze from the ring. He hit some kind of pancake in the ring and covered, but Jimmy Uso broke it up.
They did a bunch of over the top rope spots as the match broke down. Ziggler hit a superkick on Slater that looked great, and Rhyno hit a nice looking Gore. Breeze took a running haymaker from Mojo, who covered him for the win.
American Alpha & Mojo Rawley & Slater & Rhyno won at 13:11.
Backstage, Luke Harper said for the first time he realized he didn’t need Bray Wyatt anymore. He told Bray that he is not under his power anymore, and he should be the one who should run. Harper vs. Wyatt is next…[c]
My Take: So…look forward to the Dre, ok? I’m sure all that rapid fire top rope stuff was supposed to sell the match, but it really just cemented how good WWE is at putting together those match breakdown spots.
The announce team put over the WrestleMania card, and then Bray Wyatt made his entrance. Video footage aired of Orton using his cult of sheep to confront Randy Orton last week. It doesn’t really mention what they did with him though. Is he still tied up somewhere?…[c]
Luke Harper made his entrance in all black.
4. Luke Harper vs. Bray Wyatt: They brawled in the early going, with Wyatt getting the best of it with body block. Things spilled outside with Harper charging at Wyatt and sandwiching him into the barricade. Harper then celebrated on the announce table…[c]
Harper hit spinning side slam and covered for a two count. Wyatt countered with a uranage and a senton for a near fall. Wyatt taunted the crowd and Harper grabbed him in position for Sister Abigail. Wyatt escaped to the outside, but Harper hit him with two suicide dives back to back and sent him over the announce table. He then hit a somersault senton back over the ropes into the ring for a pin. Harper avoided Sister Abigail and blasted Wyatt with a discus clothesline. Harper covered, but Wyatt was able to grab the bottom rope.
Wyatt stared up at Harper, who got mesmerized for a moment, long enough to hit Sister Abigail and put him away.
Bray Wyatt defeated Luke Harper at 9:52.
After the match, a video aired with Randy Orton standing over the site he burnt down. He was standing over Abigail with a stake that was adorned with the same symbol that Wyatt waved in Orton’s face last week that he claimed gave him his power. Orton stabbed it into the dirt where Abigail was buried, and claimed he was coming for Wyatt at WrestleMania…
My Take: I’m honestly blown away that the best storyline they could come up with after six months of setting up this match was a bunch of metaphysical nonsense about Sister Abigail and whether or not her decaying corpse has the power to bestow powers upon people. Wasn’t there a much more straightforward path here with what they set up with the implosion of the Wyatts? What is the point of having two matches with this kind of macabre symbology? We already say Taker digging graves on Monday. Personally, I think Orton and Wyatt could have had a much more physical feud that didn’t rely so much on having people stretch extra hard to suspend their disbelief. I think this match will end up being very good on Sunday, but the path getting there was a disappointment.
All that said, I liked Luke Harper here. I think he could use a radical character departure to get people reinvested in him, but after that the sky is really the limit. He’s just a ton of fun to watch in the ring, and could be great on the mic if he could get away from dimly lit backrooms and speaking in riddles.