By Jake Barnett, Prowrestling.net Senior Staffer (@barnettjake)
WWE Smackdown on USA Network
Live from Birmingham, Alabama at Legacy Arena
Video aired of the conclusion of last week’s Smackdown, with a handicap match being booked for the Royal Rumble between Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles for the WWE Championship. The show started with an interview segment. Renee Young welcomed AJ Styles to the ring. They had some carpet and chairs in place.
Renee opened up by recalling Daniel Bryan’s controversial decision from last week, and asked AJ if he thought the handicap was fair. Styles said he takes pride in what he does every time he gets in the ring, but if he knew Daniel Bryan would take him seriously and shove his words back in his mouth, he probably wouldn’t have been so sarcastic at the end of the show. He said his strategy would be to hit Kevin and Sami as hard and as fast as he can, because the longer the match goes on the greater the chance of him losing his championship. Renee accused him of avoiding the question, and asked him if he thought Bryan was being unfair.
AJ got a little lost in his words and said he didn’t want to pretend to know what Daniel Bryan is thinking. He called it unfair that he had to face two challengers at the same time, but life isn’t fair either. He refused to denounce Daniel Bryan, but did say that he didn’t thinking it was smart booking to put him in a position to lose in two non-title matches on Smackdown. Renee asked if he thought Daniel Bryan was biased, and he didn’t answer, and said he didn’t want to play that game. She asked the same question again about Shane McMahon, and AJ said he wasn’t going to answer it.
AJ then said that he would do his best to beat them both, and that the Smackdown would always remain the house…..but Kevin Owens interrupted. Kevin and Sami told AJ that he was professing sour grapes about putting his foot in his mouth and now trying to take it back. They said that they would defeat AJ at the Royal Rumble and become the first ever co-WWE Champions. They said once they were champions, they would make Smackdown their own, and do whatever they wanted. They started yepping, and then Shane McMahon appeared.
Shane said he agreed with the Champ that the situation was unfair, but he stood by the General Managers decision….for now. He said even though he was baffled by the handicap match at the Rumble, he did think it was a good idea to have one tonight. He then booked Owens and Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura, Randy Orton, and Styles in the main event.
Backstage, Bryan and Shane got a bit passive aggressive backstage, but it didn’t amount to much but awkwardness. Bryan was clearly disappointed, but shook Shane’s hand and congratulated him on making the main event.
My Take: AJ was pretty rough in that promo. He had a lot of dialogue to get through and he just didn’t remember it. He jumped around between lines as he remembered them and as a result the promo felt jumbled. Owens and Zayn haven’t enjoyed much character growth since they started the yep movement, but hopefully this handicap match will be the catalyst for something more interesting than jokey promos full of yepping. The GM situation continues to be somewhat ambiguous, and could use some clarity.
Becky Lynch made her entrance followed by Charlotte and Naomi. The Riott Squad then made their entrance.
1. Becky Lynch vs. Ruby Riott: Becky got the early advantage and dumped Ruby out to the floor with a forearm shot. Ruby regrouped with the Riott Squad…[c]
Ruby was in control with a body scissors and turned Becky upside down for a near fall. Becky managed to reverse position a moment later and covered for a two count of her own. Becky fought to her feet and landed some strikes, but Ruby shut her down with a hair pull and some knees to the chest. Ruby went for an abdominal stretch but never quite got it hooked in, and Becky hip tossed out of it.
Becky hit a couple of suplexes, but Ruby seemed to shake them off and hit a kick to the ribs. She went for the Riott Kick, but Becky managed to grab the arm and pull her down for the Disarmer. The Riott Squad teased interference, but Charlotte and Naomi had her back and stared them off. Ruby was forced to tap out.
Becky Lynch defeated Ruby Riott at 6:39.
After the match, Sami Zayn was shown surprising Becky Lynch at an autograph signing, letting her know they were partners for the Mixed Match challenge. The main event was hyped for later.
My Take: I know Becky needed a win, but why are the Riott Squad the punching bag at this point? And why not get more mileage out of getting her revenge on the people who caused her storyline absence? It’s pretty clear the Riott Squad aren’t a priority and may not be a major factor in the Title Picture into the future. The entrances for this match also took up as much time as the match, which was a bit peculiar this early on in the show.
The Ascension were in the ring. Video was shown for earlier of Breezango letting The Ascension know they wouldn’t be at ringside because they have a match later with Rusev Day. The Bludgeon Brothers made their entrance after the video.
2. The Bludgeon Brothers vs. The Ascension: Victor blitzed Harper to start the match with chops in the corner, but Harper killed him with a bit boot in response. He then knocked Konnor off the apron and delivered their double Powerbomb finisher to Victor for the win.
The Bludgeon Brothers defeated The Ascension at 1:01.
After the match, The Bludgeon Brothers hit their double powerbomb on Konnor for good measure. Bobby Roode made his entrance after the Ascension cleared out…[c]
My Take: The announcers tried hard to make this seem like the Bludgeon Brothers were beating a credible team and thus looked strong here, but we all know better.
Zack Ryder was in the ring and stared at the US Championship at ringside. Roode sat in on commentary. Mojo Rawley then made his entrance with his updated entrance theme.
2. Zack Ryder vs. Mojo Rawley: Ryder hit a dropkick that sent Mojo retreating to the floor. He re-entered and ran Ryder into the corner. Mojo roughed up Ryder with punches and tossed him repeatedly into the corner by the throat. Mojo went for a vertical suplex, but Ryder rotated through and hit a neckbreaker. Ryder fired up with some forearms, but was shut down quickly. Mojo tossed him hard into the ring post and then followed up with his running fist for the win.
Mojo Rawley defeated Zack Ryder at 5:44.
After the match, there was a brief stare down between Mojo and Bobby Roode. Backstage, Jinder Mahal stood with the Singh Brothers and said that he would enjoy embarrassing Xavier Woods and the New Day on his way to becoming United States Champion…[c]
My Take: If Mojo is really going to be a serious heel, he would benefit from some updated gear and a new finisher. Nothing he does in the ring really screams heel, even though he seems to be working hard on delivering a more serious heel effort with his personality.
We got some footage from last week’s Tag Team Championship match. Gable and Benjamin made their entrance and were scheduled to demand justice. Gable opened up and spoke about accomplishment and what it meant to feel like your hard work is being rewarded, only to have it stolen away from you. Benjamin said Alabama won a National Championship last night, but they didn’t deserve it, because Georgia got screwed by a bad referee call.
Gable complained about referees stealing their Championships, and the referee last week is jealous, and just like the crowd he doesn’t understand what it takes to be a winner. They claimed they didn’t lose to the Usos last week, they lost to instant replay. They demanded justice, and for the titles to be freed from the Uso penitentiary. They then demanded to see the referee that helped overturn the decision last week, which prompted Daniel Bryan to walk out.
Bryan told them he understood the euphoria of thinking that you won, and he also understand working hard for things and having it taken away from them. Bryan said there are some hard and fast rules that everyone needs to understand, and one of them is that the referees decision is final. The referee saw the footage and reversed his decision, and he felt it was the right thing to do, and Bryan stands behind him.
Gable fired back and said that he felt like they already had beaten the Usos, they should already be champions, and that Bryan was taking out his frustrations with Shane McMahon on them. He asked Bryan what he wanted them to do, beat them twice in one night? Bryan called Gable a genius, and told him that the Usos would defend the championships against Gable and Benjamin at the Royal Rumble in a 2 out of 3 falls match.
Backstage, AJ Styles walked up to Randy Orton and asked if they’d be on the same page about beating Kevin and Sami until they wished they were fired. Orton agreed, and AJ said “Good Talk”. Orton held him up and said they would be on the same page tonight, but after he wins the Royal Rumble, he didn’t care who was holding that title when he came after it at WrestleMania. Shinsuke Nakamura walked up and said not so fast. He tapped the WWE Championship on Styles chest and stared at both Orton and Styles and said “Good Talk”…[c]
My Take: I really hope they pull the trigger on Nakamura vs. Styles at WrestleMania. They can undo a lot of wrongs by telling Nakamura’s story in earnest for a big Mania program, and there’s no reason why their WrestleMania match wouldn’t be even better than the banger we saw at WrestleKingdom just a few years ago.
Rusev Day was in the ring and English sang about them winning the Rusev Rumble on Rusev Day. Breezango then made their entrance.
3. Rusev Day vs. Breezango: English and Fandango started, with Fandango draping English over the top rope and Breezango hitting a double team kick that sent him out to the floor. English regrouped on the outside with Rusev…[c]
English and Rusev dominated during the break, and Breeze made an athletic escape to make a hot tag to Fandango as the show returned. Fandango hit a nice dropkick, but got cut down by two round kicks by Rusev. He then hit a dropkick of his own. Rusev then fired up for the Accolade, but Breeze came to the rescue and broke it up before it started. After the distraction, Fandango rolled up Rusev and got a surprise win.
Breezango defeated Rusev Day at 6:12
Backstage, Shane McMahon got up in Bryan’s grill about his decision making being impetuous and irrational. He said Owens and Zayn don’t belong in the main event, and Gable and Benjamin didn’t deserve a second shot after losing last week. He asked Bryan if he was feeling ok, because he was coming across as a bit unstable. Bryan said he could say the same thing for Shane, and given his genetic make up, it would only be a matter of time. Shane said they were going to have to agree to disagree, and he would leave him alone…[c]
My Take: I don’t know why they insist on playing this GM angle with so much grey area. They aren’t particular good at writing it, and both guys just come across as smarmy assholes.
Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, and AJ Styles made their entrance. Owens and Zayn followed…[c]
4. Randy Orton, AJ Styles, and Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: Owens and Orton started, and the match spilled outside quickly with Owens rolling out for a breather. Orton followed and roughed up Owens on the barricade and tossed him back in. Owens turned things around in the ring and made a tag to Zayn, who quickly got overwhelmed by Orton’s offense. Orton hit some strikes and stomps before tagging in Nakamura, who continued the offense with some strikes in the corner. Owens and Styles tagged in and Styles got the better of an exchange. Style set up for Styles Clash, but Zayn pulled Owens out of the ring and they tried to leave up the ramp. Shane came out immediately and made the match no count out and restarted it…[c]
Kevin Owens took out his anger on AJ Styles with punches and kicks before making a cover for a two count. Owens continued the assault, but Styles bought himself some breathing room with an Ushigoroshi. Orton and Zayn tagged in, and Orton hit a snap powerslam, followed by a draping DDT. Orton setup for an RKO, but Owens entered with a chair and got he and Zayn disqualified by hitting Owens in the gut. Before I could type this out as the finish, Shane made his way out to restart the match as No DQ.
Styles returned the favor and wore out Owens with a chair. Zayn was trapped and tried to make an escape through the crowd, but Nakamura and Orton tossed him into the ring post, and then hit him with the ring steps. They both then tossed Zayn over the announce table. Orton then hit a back suplex on the announce table, and tossed him into the ring for a Kinshasa. Orton then hit an RKO and pinned him for the win.
Randy Orton, Shinsuke Nakamura, and AJ Styles defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at 16:55.
Orton and Nakamura posed to close the show.
My Take: A crowd pleasing end to the show, with plenty of ammo for Daniel Bryan for next week. The development of this story really seems tied to whether or not Bryan will be eventually cleared to wrestle by WWE, so they may be holding off on any major betrayals or developments until that contingency is resolved. It hasn’t made the on screen conflict any more exciting, but it is understandable given the nature of Bryan’s health concerns. Jason Powell is correct when he says the Rumble sells itself, but it sure would be nice to hear a few people talking about it on these shows. Adding some depth to characters by explaining their motivation for the Rumble would be a better use of time than sinking several televised minutes for entrances during the women’s match and the main event. They could have trimmed some time from the opening segment as well. Overall, this was another watchable show, but it felt like another week in a holding pattern for the most part.