By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Smackdown Live Hits
AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Randy Orton vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: After weeks of making Shane McMahon look foolish, you had to know that Owens and Zayn were in for some payback sooner or later. The babyfaces delivered a crowd pleasing beatdown after a couple of restarts from McMahon. Let me guess? The ad for next week’s Smackdown will question how Daniel Bryan will react?
Renee Young interviews AJ Styles: Young is the underutilized gem of the WWE broadcast team. She’s terrific in backstage interviews and she did a fine job with what she was asked to do in this segment. And, of course, there’s the terrific chemistry she had with Daniel Bryan on the sadly cancelled Talking Smack show. I’m all for WWE doing more to showcase Young’s talents. In this segment, she asked the tough questions while Styles played the nice guy role and tried to avoid saying anything controversial. Styles was the weak link of the segment and came off angrier and perhaps genuinely flustered in this setting. The interruption and boasting by Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn was well done. The backstage exchange with Shane and Daniel Bryan that followed established that all is not right between the authority figures despite their awkward handshake.
Bludgeon Brothers vs. The Ascension: Another week, another squash win over a main roster team. It will be interesting to see who the first team is to have a competitive match with the duo. It will also be interesting to see if creative intends to give Luke Harper and Erick Rowan any sense of character development or if this is a case of what you see is what you get.
Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin: They may not be polished, but it was still nice to hear something from these two that didn’t involve a bad spoof of another tag team. The segment was odd in that the heels basically called Daniel Bryan on his contradiction that the referee’s decisions should have stood, and Bryan didn’t have a very good explanation. However, Bryan did include some pro-management lines, which is interesting given his character’s current storyline.
WWE Smackdown Live Misses
Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan: Despite the fact that the opening segment went well, it wasn’t a good night for the Smackdown authority figures. The guy who led the Yes Movement giving a pro-management speech, and both men came off poorly in their second backstage exchange. It just feels like Bryan should tell Shane that he gave Owens and Zayn the handicap title match because he expects them to self-destruct. Perhaps we’ll still get to that point if Bryan makes a late announcement that the person who scores the deciding pinfall will be the only recognized champion, but at this point Bryan looks bad. And even if they get this right, the authority figures are overshadowing the actual wrestlers on the show.
Becky Lynch vs. Ruby Riott: This match stood out as a potential highlight when WWE issued their official preview. Unfortunately, WWE is the promotion that often puts more stock in ring entrances than actual matches. They showed the Riott Squad entrances along with separate entrances for Lynch, Charlotte, and Naomi. The bell rang and then the show cut to break. Sure, we got to watch along with the split-screen commercial, but WWE’s approach still took away from the match and sent a bad message about the importance of the in-ring product. As for the finish, it’s nice to see Lynch get a win, but it’s disappoint to see how quickly the Riott Squad members have settled into the parity booking. Whatever sense of danger that existed with the trio is already gone.
Mojo Rawley vs. Zack Ryder in a U.S. Title tournament match: In this case, they actually should have shown all of the ring entrances. It was impossible to take Zack Ryder’s chances of winning seriously when they televised the entrances of his opponent and even guest color commentator Bobby Roode, yet they didn’t show Ryder’s entrance on television. Why telegraph the outcome? Why make Ryder seem like a scrub to the point that it meant nothing when Rawley beat him?
Breezango vs. Rusev and Aiden English: So Rusev and English are heels who are cheered, while Breezango are the babyfaces who received no reaction from the crowd unless it involved a Ric Flair chop. Perhaps it’s time to consider flipping these teams. The fans want to cheer Rusev, and I’ve always felt that Tyler Breeze and Fandango have potential as a pretty boy heel duo minus the Fashion Files schtick.
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I think we can safely say now that WWE has called up five women from NXT within the last couple of months solely for the purpose of making up the numbers in the women’s Royal Rumble. Only Ruby Riott of these women is main roster ready. I am happy there is a women’s Rumble, but I think they would have been better off going with a 20-woman rumble and kept the quality high all the way through, at least for this year.