By Jake Barnett
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WWE Smackdown on USA Network
Live from Orlando, Florida at Amway Center
Video opened the show of last week’s conflict between the authority figures, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn. AJ vs. Sami Zayn was announced for later, as well as a Tag Team Championship Match between The Usos and Gable & Benjamin. AJ Styles music hit and he walked to the ring to open the show. He welcomed the fans to Smackdown 2018, and to the house that AJ Styles built. A big AJ Styles chant broke out. He then spoke about his New Years resolution, which is to hold on to the WWE Championship all the way to WrestleMania, and leave the main event of that show with it still around his waist.
AJ spoke about the outcome of his match with Kevin Owens last week, and said he asked for the match with Sami Zayn to get his revenge for last week. He then wondered if the man who allowed Sami Zayn at ringside last week, would allow Kevin Owens at ringside this week. Styles said the man had offered to make the announcement in the ring. Daniel Bryan then made his entrance, with Shane McMahon right behind. The crowd gave Shane some love, and then to Daniel Bryan as well.
Shane said he had the best intentions last week when he went down to the ring to have Sami Zayn removed from ringside, and he apologized to him for contributing to his defeat. He then moved on to his vendetta with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens, and said that he thought he had legitimate beef, but he couldn’t understand why Daniel Bryan would have let Sami Zayn be at ringside last week. He asked him if he was turning the Yes Movement into the Yep Movement, and Bryan stayed silent. They eventually got around to saying that Kevin Owens, Daniel Bryan, and Shane McMahon would be at ringside for the main event. Shane said they’d start off 2018 with a bang.
New Day vs. English and Rusev, and The Usos vs. Gable and Benjamin are up later…[c]
My Take: They didn’t really add a lot of steam to he main event, despite adding everybody and their brother to ringside. Styles didn’t really react at all to the shenanigans, Bryan and Shane didn’t break any new ground in their conflict either. Hopefully the main event answers a few questions. This segment at least put some pieces in place for that to happen.
Gable and Benjamin made their entrance, followed by The Usos. The Usos said they were standing in front of Gable and Benjamin’s New Year’s Resolutions. They listed their accolades, and welcomed them to the Uso Penitentiary.
1. The Usos vs. Gable & Benjamin: The match quickly fell apart as both Chad Gable and Jey Uso were sent to ringside. Benjamin and Jimmy brawled, with Jimmy hitting a boot out of the corner and jumping to the top rope. Benjamin then leapt up and tossed him into the middle of the ring. Chad Gable then hit a moonsault from the next corner and made a cover. Jey Uso entered the match to break up the fall attempt…[c]
The heels worked on Jimmy Uso’s knee during the break with holds and strikes. The match broke down quickly Jimmy making a tag, and Jey clearing the ring and hitting a splash on the outside to Benjamin. Jimmy and Jey went to splash them both, but Jey got pulled out to the floor and Jimmy took a knee coming through the ropes. Shelton and Gable quickly pounce and hit their double team powerbomb finisher and cover him for a three count.
The pinfall stopped the match at 9:41
Gable and Shelton began to celebrate, but an additional referee ran down and pointed out that Jimmy Uso was not the legal man, and the ref shouldn’t have counted the cover. They announced that the match would be restarted…[c]
The match was restarted after a brawl broke out. Jey hit Benjamin with a kick. He went for a Rikishi splash but Gable helped Benjamin escape. They set up for their double team powerbomb, but Jey fell back and Gable jumped directly into a Jimmy Uso superkick. Jimmy tagged in and hit a big splash on Gable for the win.
The Usos defeated Gable and Benjamin to retain their Championships – total match time 14:11.
After the match, The Usos celebrated as Gable and Benjamin protested from ringside. Backstage, Sami and Kevin were interviewed by Renee Young. She asked whether tonight would be different at ringside with everyone at ringside. Sami said the only things that would be different from last week are what they had for breakfast, and which building they’re in. He said he beat AJ Styles last week and Sami would beat AJ Styles later tonight. Sami said that he couldn’t believe that Shane was accusing Daniel Bryan of favoritism, and that Shane and Daniel at ringside wouldn’t change the reality of the situation. They were both going to defeat the WWE Champion…[c]
My Take: I liked the backstage promo. I’m assuming Sami wins tonight and that gives AJ a Triple Threat for the Royal Rumble, that will set in motion a potential feud between Kevin and Sami for down the road. The Tag Team Championship match was victim to some awkward commercial breaks that ruined any momentum they had built with the drama in the match. I do like the chemistry these two teams are building in the ring, though.
Breezango finished up their entrance. The Bludgeon Brothers made their entrance. While video from last week played to setup the match, The Bludgeon Brothers assaulted Breezango. The Ascension tried to make a save, but they got shut down quickly.
Backstage, The New Day celebrated the New Year with pancakes. Woods said once he becomes US Champion, they all become US Champion. As he was set to blow out a candle for his wish, English and Rusev walked up. English said he would celebrate Rusev Day by eliminating Woods from the US Championship tournament later tonight. Rusev blew out Wood’s candle and told him that’s what he thought of his wish.
My Take: I’m assuming this Bludgeon Brothers gimmick will have a pay off eventually. Maybe? Woods and New Day as US Champ would be a lot of fun, especially against Jinder and the Singh Brothers. They’d be better on the chase though, so I’m still guessing Jinder is the heavy favorite to win the tournament.
We got a brief promo from Mojo Rawley where he said he would render him irrelevant when he beats him next week in the US Title Tournament. English and Rusev were in the ring. Rusev sang an entrance poem for Aiden English, which the crowd ate up. Woods then made his entrance with the rest of the New Day.
2. Xavier Woods vs. Aiden English: A long sequence of reversals opened the match, with Woods capping it off with a rolling elbow. English rolled to the floor, and Woods attempted a springboard splash to the floor, but missed. Woods then attempted an honor roll, but English sent him into the steps. Back in the ring, English held a chin lock as Rusev jawed at him from the outside. Woods rolled out of the chinlock and hot a superkick to create some space.
They traded blows mid ring, and then Woods hit a torture rack into a lumbar check for a two count. English hit his sitout spinebuster finisher a moment later for a near fall. English then went up top and lifted Woods into a piledriver position. Woods managed to escape and back body dropped English off the top rope. He then followed up with a big elbow drop for the win.
Xavier Woods defeated Aiden English at 7:31.
After the match, New Day celebrated and Woods ate a pancake.
Nattie, Carmella, Tamina, and Lana were interviewed backstage. They were now calling themselves the welcoming committee, and said they were the Riott Squad before it was cool as as the Welcoming Committee. They said they would take down the Riott Squad, because there was no substitute to the real thing.
My Take: I was hoping for more of a spark between Woods and English than we got, but the right guy won. My interest is piqued for what Woods can pull off with Jinde Mahal in a singles situation.
Nattie made her entrance with her gaggle of friends while video was shown of them running off the Riott Squad last week. The Riott Squad then made their entrane.
3. The Riott Squad vs. The Welcoming Committee: Liv Morgan and Natalya started the match, and Liv got the early advantage with a head scissors. Nattie turned things around and went for a Sharpshooter, which caused Liv to scramble out of the ring and regroup…[c]
Sarah Logan held a chin lock on Carmella for bit. She escaped and tagged in Tamina, who cleaned house with some power moves. She hit a Samoan Drop on Logan and went up top for a splash. Liv Morgan interfered and knocked Tamina into the ring, where Logan hit a knee to the back of the neck and covered for the win.
The Riott Squad defeated The Welcoming Committee at 6:54.
After the match, Ruby Riot grabbed a mic and decided to remind the crowd that magic wasn’t real, and that they are all phony. She said the crowd fakes their way through their phony lives, but the truth is they are miserable. She said everyone needs a dose of reality, and they are real. Their success is real, and their destruction is real, and that’s why they would enter the Royal Rumble Match.
Charlotte interrupted them and said that she is a dreamer, and she tells everyone to reach for their dreams, but they live in a reality where actions have consequences. She then introduced Naomi and Becky Lynch to get their revenge on the Riott Squad. They ran down to the ring and mopped up the Riott Squad, and Becky threw Ruby and Liv around with suplexes. The main event is next…[c]
My Take: It’s nice to see Becky back. Her presence and babyface energy was missed in the Women’s division. Hopefully she gets some promo time soon. The Riott Squad sadly already feels like they need a repack. Or at least some personality changes that make them feel a bit more cohesive as a unit. Why does Sarah Logan need to be a fur trapper?
Baron Corbin was shown in a pre-tape, and talked about how the Royal Rumble was designed for him. He officially entered the Royal Rumble Match and said he couldn’t wait to Main Event WrestleMania. He said he couldn’t wait about 10 times.
In the arena, AJ Styles made his entrance. Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon joined at ringside…[c]
Sami Zayn made his entrance, along with Kevin Owens.
4. Sami Zayn vs. AJ Styles: The match opened with a hard lariat by AJ Styles. Sami fired back with a back body drop. The match spilled outside and that started an argument between Shane and Owens on the outside. This distracted Bryan and AJ, and allowed Sami to hit a Fisherman Buster in the ring…[c]
Both men traded blows mid ring, with Styles hitting his signature flurry ending in a big lariat to create some space for himself. Styles hit a big splash in the corner followed by a gutbuster for a two count. Zayn hung Styles on the top rope from the apron, and then climbed up top. Styles quickly adjusted and knocked him down, and then hit an Ushigoroshi for a near fall. He then set up for a Styles Clash, but Zayn slipped out and hit a Blue Thunder Bomb for a near fall.
Sami signaled for a Heluva Kick, bug Styles caught him in a Calf Crusher center ring. Zayn was eventually able to reach the bottom rope. Zayn fought back with some forearms, and Styles responded with a Pele Kick. Styles got in position for a Forearm, but Zayn moved out of the way. Styles grabbed a waistlock and ran Zayn into the ropes, and that forced the ref to bail out of the ring. Style grabbed a crucifix pin, and had a visual pinfall, but Owens prevented the ref from re-entering the ring.
This prompted Shane to come over and shove Owens, and then things broke down. The ref ejected Kevin, and then Bryan asked Shane to leave. Kevin jumped up on the apron one more time, and Styles took a shot at him. This allowed Zayn to hit a Heluva Kick, and cover Styles for the win.
Sami Zayn defeated AJ Styles at 14:44.
After the match, Styles vented his frustration on the microphone. He told Shane and Bryan to stop bickering like children, and told Kevin and Sami that they are cowards that can’t earn a victory on their own. He told Bryan and Shane to make everybody happy and book him in a handicap match, seemingly as a joke, and Bryan made the match for the Royal Rumble for the WWE Championship. Styles looked irritated to close the show.
My Take: You could see this coming from orbit, but it wasn’t in a bad way. The most interesting part of this story is that the handicap match forces Zayn and Owens to make a choice about who will get to pin AJ Styles and become WWE Champion. From there the options for the future of their program are wide open. Hopefully this means AJ can take advantage of the scenario and retain, and move on to whatever his eventual WrestleMania program will be. Overall this was an average edition of Smackdown. It didn’t set my world on fire, but it moved along at a good pace and didn’t feel like it dwelled too long on any bad material.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell and guest Todd Martin on his background, attending pro wrestling events in Japan, the NJPW G1 Tournament, why lucha libre companies haven't been as successful as NJPW in the United States, AEW optimism, covering pro wrestling and MMA, and more (68:57)...