By Jake Barnett
WWE Smackdown on USA Network
Live from Chicago, Illinois at Allstate Arena
Daniel Bryan opened the show and made his way down to the ring. Tom Phillips, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton chimed in commentary and said AJ Styles would take on Kevin Owens later on in the show. Bryan grabbed a microphone and soaked in some chants before saying it was great to be back in Chicago. He said last week was a roller coaster edition of the show, and one of the surprises last week came from an unexpected place. He then threw to some footage of Dolph Ziggler’s promo from last week where he left the US Championship in the ring and left suddenly.
Bryan said he’s been trying to reach Dolph Ziggler all week, and he hasn’t responded to texts or phone calls. He then said that his actions were taken as Dolph voluntarily relinquishing the United States Championship. Bryan offered a personal note and said that Dolph is undoubtedly one of the best of all time, and everyone in WWE wished him the best in the future. Bryan then announced a US Title tournament to find a new Champion that would start tonight when Baron Corbin takes on Bobby Roode.
Gable and Benjamin showed up and demanded to know what Bryan was going to do about the tag team titles. They asked why they didn’t get a one on one opportunity against the Usos, and instead got stuck in a fatal four way match. They then said they beat the champs last week, so they had earned another opportunity, and proved once and for all that they would have taken a singles match with the Champs.
Rusev and English then interrupted, making their own case in song that they had beaten the Usos two weeks ago, and had earned a one on one title opportunity themselves. Rusev Day was mega over. New Day interrupted and Kofi threw some pancakes into the crowd. Woods said all you have to do to find out the Number One Contender is play the Kofi Kingston True/False Challenge. Did Gable get pinned at Clash of Champions? True. Did New Day beat the oddly charismatic team of Rusev Day? True. New Day then entered the ring and danced with Bryan and said it was true that “your boys” were the next Number Contenders, and did their dance with him.
Rusev told Daniel Bryan to make a decision, and asked if he needed his Mommy Shane McMahon to decide for him. Bryan then made a triple threat between the teams in the ring to determine Number One Contender, and the match starts now. The Usos then made their entrance and joined on commentary.
My Take: A lively opening segment. Ziggler appears to be gone for now, and the Tag Division will get some additional focus while the US Division rebuilds. I’m curious if some of the New Day members challenge for the US Title if they are not in line for a title shot.
1. New Day vs. Benjamin & Gable vs. Rusev Day: New Day took control early as the action spilled outside and Woods hit a big tope to the outside. They setup English for the Midnight Hour, but Gable broke it up with a double German. The action slowed a bit as Rusev Day worked over Gable, and then Gable and Benjamin worked over Big E. Woods tagged in and brought some life, but quick tags by Gable and Benjamin brought the pace back down. English was mostly out of it during this period, and eventually made a tag to Rusev that the crowd fired up for. Rusev cleaned house on Gable and Woods, and Rusev hit a wheel kick on Big E and a Machka Kick on Benjamin.
Rusev lined up for a dive to the outside, but ate a knee from Gable. Rusev got cleared from the ring, and Woods and Big E hit a Uranage Backstabber combo on Gable for a near fall. Benjamin cleared Big E from the ring and Gable hit a big Moonsault on Woods for another near fall a moment later. Rusev came in and hit a double powerbomb on Gable and Shelton as they attempted a double superplex on Gable. English followed up with a big frog splash on Gable for a near fall.
Rusev got a big tag and went to apply the Accolade on Gable, but Woods interrupted with a roll up for two. Rusev kicked him in the face and applied a double cheeseburger Accolade on Gable and Woods, but Shelton broke it up. Big E entered and hit big spear through the ropes on Benjamin that sent him crashing to the floor. E then went for a Big Ending, but Benjamin escaped. Big E climbed to the second rope, but Gable interrupted him. Benjamin tagged Gable, picked up Big E in position for a Powerbomb, and they hit their Doomsday Device like finish for the win. Gable pinned Big E, as he was the legal man.
Gable and Benjamin defeated Rusev Day and New Day at 15:33.
Backstage, Shane walked up to Bryan and said he was upset last week when Bryan accused him of growing into being his father. Shane laid out all of the negative things about Vince, and laid it on thick about how Vince revolutionized Sports Entertainment. Bryan said that the way Shane had been throwing his weight around lately, it was a lot like some of his Dad’s less desirable traits.
Shane then accused Bryan of doing the same thing, making a US Championship Tournament instead of giving the two men who competed at Clash of Champions another shot, and also putting Kevin Owens in the Main Event. He said that he wants Bryan to know that people are saying he’s showing favoritism to Owens and Zayn, and Shane needs his General Manager to be beyond reproach. Bryan said his reasoning was that Owens and AJ was one of the most vicious programs of 2017, and why not one more match? Shane mumbled ok…
The Fashion Police made their entrance. A video was shown during the entrance of The Ascension doing them a favor of getting them a rematch with the Bludgeon Brothers. After the video, the Bludgeon Brothers made their entrance.
2. The Bludgeon Brothers vs. Breezango: Breeze got destroyed on the outside by getting slammed into apron. Fandango was chucked around on the outside. Harper hit a big sit out powerbomb in the ring on Breeze, but Rowan pulled up the cover at 2 to dish out more punishment. The Ascension made the save by running in and preventing further damage, but Breezango got disqualified.
The Bludgeon Brothers defeated Breezango by DQ at 2:22.
Backstage, the Ascension prevented an interview of Breezango, but did offer a challenge to the Bludgeon Brothers on behalf of Breezango to a rematch for next week. The announce team then threw to a video package about Stephanie McMahon announcing the first Women’s Royal Rumble.
My Take: I think we can all agree that the most important thing about the women’s division in WWE is that Stephanie McMahon can take credit for it. These commercial free hours are a bit brutal for sneaking in commentary. The Bludgeon Brothers being kept busy by Breezango and The Ascension isn’t all bad since the rest of the division is so good right now. Speaking of which, the Tag Opener was a lot of fun. Rusev is going to be a mega singles babyface if he gets the chance. Rusev vs. Jinder for the US Championship would be a great mid card feud.
Ruby Riott made her way to the ring accompanied by Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan. A picture in picture promo was shown where she cut a terribly written punny promo about the Rumble being a Riott, and that gave her an advantage. She told Naomi that tonight the glow has got to go. Ugh. Naomi made her entrance in the arena.
My Take: I can’t imagine taping that Ruby Riott promo and thinking that was the script I was going to TV with.
3. Naomi vs. Ruby Riott: Ruby got the jump early by getting the better of a brawl. Naomi returned fire, but the Riott Squad jumped on the apron and offered two distractions. Riott then kicked Naomi in the back fo the knee and then hit the Riott Kick for the win.
Ruby Riott defeated Naomi at 1:22.
The Riott Squad stomped on Naomi for a few seconds, which prompted Charlotte to make a run in. She got in a good bit of offense, but was eventually overwhelmed by the odds. Natalya, Lana, Tamina, and Carmella ran down and stared down the Riott Squad, which prompted them to retreat. They tried to leave the ringside area, but the rest of the women jumped them on the ramp side of the ring. The Riott Squad ran up the ramp to escape further assault.
Backstage, Renee Young interviewed AJ Styles. She asked what Styles plan was for Sami Zayn at ringside later. Styles said that he challenged himself in 2017, and he started the year as Champion, and he ended it as Champion. He said his plan for Zayn was the same as it was for the Singh Brothers, if he got involved he would take him down. Styles then said that life is all about about opportunity, and Kevin Owens thinks it should be handed to him. He said that’s not how it works in life, and that won’t be how it works on any brand you share with AJ Styles. Styles said he wasn’t sure whether or not Daniel Bryan was playing favorites, but he’s the favorite in any match he’s in, and he doesn’t see that changing from 2017 to 2018 in the House that AJ Styles built.
My Take: The Women’s division is still a jumble. If I were Becky Lynch, I’d be in no hurry to come back unless they had some ideas for me. Poor Charlotte has been Champion for weeks now and she deserves to be the focus of the division.
In the Arena, Baron Corbin made his entrance, followed by Baron Corbin…
4. Bobby Roode vs. Baron Corbin: Roode came out hot and quickly forced Corbin to retreat to the floor. Roode then followed and got sent into the barricade. Corbin then hung Roode from the ropes on apron by the legs and landed a hard gut punch. Back in the ring, Corbin continued to dominate the offense and taunted the crowd. Roode fired back with chops, but was shut down immediately with a side slam for a two count.
The match moved inside to outside several times with Corbin controlling the pace. Roode going on his comeback after Corbin missed a charge in the corner. Roode then hit a blockbuster, but Corbin shut him down again with a clothesline. Corbin went for End of Days, but Roode escaped and hit a spinebuster. Roode fired up for the Glorious DDT, but Corbin counted with a Deep Six for a near fall.
Roode climbed to the second rope, and Corbin met him up there. Roode headbutted him down and jumped into a chokeslam attempt. Roode slipped out and won via a crafty roll up.
Bobby Roode defeated Baron Corbin at 10:44.
After the match, Corbin looked on dejected.
My Take: This was the obvious first choice for the US Title Tournament opener, but it gets significantly more interesting from here. Hopefully we get some surprises and a more lively and competitive division when it’s over. That’s wish thinking at this point, but a man has to dream.
The Singh Brothers walked out and introduced Jinder Mahal as the next United States Champion. He made his ring entrance. He was followed by Tye Dillinger, who can count to 10 with the best of them. A picture in picture video aired where Tye Dillinger said the only number that matters is 10. Honestly he should just steal the gimmick of The Count on Sesame Street.
5. Tye Dillinger vs. Baron Corbin: Dillinger got in some early offense, and Mahal retreated to the floor to regroup…[c]
The match went back and forth during the break, but the balance of the offense tilted towards Mahal. Dillinger hit a DDT and then backed Mahal into a corner. Mahal reversed out and Dillinger landed in a position where Mahal was able to hit the Khallas and pick up the win.
Jinder Mahal defeated Tye Dillinger at 8:41.
My Take: Dillinger works hard but Corey Graves hits the nail on the head when he talks about him seeming like a sociopath. He’s so one dimensional it’s hard to believe that he’s human unless he suffers under some kind of mental illness. Mahal feels at home in the US Championship division.
Backstage, Kevin Owens was interviewed by Dasha Fuentes. He had Champagne in hand, and said he would celebrate after he beats AJ Styles later tonight. Owens mentioned that Daniel Bryan put him in this match was to avenge his loss to AJ Styles when Shane McMahon screwed him in their last match together. He said the Champagne was the same bottle that Daniel Bryan refused to take last week, and he didn’t take it because he believes in them, and wants them to celebrate their victory over AJ Styles later tonight. Owens says he’s better than phenomenal, and this time he would have a guardian angel in his corner.
Elsewhere, Randy Orton acknowledged that his focus was on places where it didn’t belong, and from now on all his focus would be on tossing 29 other men over the top rope at the Royal Rumble. He then officially announced his entrance. Shinsuke Nakamura then walked up and said that was a good idea, and let’s Rumble. AJ Styles made his entrance in the building…[c]
My Take: I like Orton and Shinsuke in the Rumble. I’m wondering if either of them will attempt to make a save later on in the Main Event if things go upside down for AJ. The proximity of their appearance seems like WWE’s usual foreshadowing.
Kevin Owens made his entrance in the arena.
6. AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens: AJ hit a dropkick to start the match and put Owens on his heels. AJ locked in a calf crusher early, but Owens quickly reached the ropes. He then bailed to the outside, but AJ followed and kicked his leg out of his leg (RIP Owen). Zayn offered a distraction that allowed Owens to take over. Owens hit a clothesline out on the floor, followed by a running senton. Styles then sold for Owens heading into the break, with Owens shutting down a Styles comeback with a Final Cut style elbow drop…[c]
Styles returned fire with some strikes, and hit a facebuster that got him back into the match. Styles missed a moonsault out of the corner, and that allowed Owens to turn him inside out with a clothesline and hit a neckbreaker for a near fall. Styles fired back with an Ushigoroshi, and then both men traded a series of blows. Styles got the better of it, and hit a running forearm, but only got a two count. Styles hit a pele kick and setup for a Phenomenal Forearm, but Owens caught him and hit a gutbuster. Owens hit an elbow drop and covered, but only got a near fall.
Styles and Owens fought to their feet and AJ hit a twisting powerbomb out of a torture rack. Owens spilled outside. Zayn jumped in the way of a forearm from AJ Styles, and AJ then sent Owens into the ring post. AJ tossed Owens in the ring and setup for the Phenomenal Forearm, but Zayn jumped on the apron and distracted AJ and the ref. Shane walked out and demanded Zayn be tossed, and so he was. The ref was tied up with Zayn and Shane, and missed a rollup attempt by Styles. Owens the rolled up Styles with the tights and got the win.
Kevin Owens defeated AJ Styles at 16:33.
After the match, Owens celebrated with Zayn, and Styles walked up the ramp. There was a moment when Styles have Shane the evil eye, but he just looked more dejected than anything. The announce team argued over whether Shane’s overzealousness in getting involved had cost AJ the match.
My Take: I don’t mind that Owens got the win, but this wasn’t well executed. The ref looked like a blithering idiot staring at Shane and Zayn arguing up the ramp for 15 seconds longer than necessary, and then jumped immediately out of position to count the pin while not noticing Owens had a handful of tights. The outcome is probably more important to the show than the finish, but I’d rather the feud be between Owens/Zayn and Styles than dragging along the authority figures and mucking up the main event scene, which this looks to be doing.