By Jake Barnett, Prowrestling.net Senior Staffer (@barnettjake)
WWE Smackdown on USA Network
Live from Washington, D.C. at Capital One Arena
The show began with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn making their way out to the ring. Owens told the crowd it was time to pay attention because what they had in front of them was the future of WWE, and not a parade of retirees like they say last night on Raw’s 25th Anniversary. He asked the crowd to give it up for the next Co-WWE Champion Sami Zayn, and Sami did the same for him in return.
Owens said the yep movement is more than a single word of affirmation, it’s about resisting the tyranny of authority. They talked about Shane stacking the deck against them, and how it has all backfired because all it has proved is that AJ Styles has no chance on Sunday. He said if they couldn’t overcome the odds of a handicap match, and because they are the best wrestlers on Smackdown Live, AJ stands no chance.
Sami grabbed the mic and told AJ he was going to break it down for him, since he knows he’s not the smartest. He said they were going to take his title on Sunday, and after that, they were going to hurt him. They both started yepping around, until AJ Styles interrupted. We got a loud AJ Styles chant, who addressed the as Kami. He asked if he heard them correctly that they said they were going to beat him on Sunday. He said how about “nope”. He then repeated the phrase after asking if he they actually said they were going to hurt him and take their titles. He asked if they are annoyed, because they’ve been annoying him with yep for months.
Owens told him to get used to it, because after they take his title, he would hear it everywhere. From his fans, from his friends, from his family, at the airport, everywhere once they take his title. Styles retorted that they were cocky, and they should be because they have the advantage. He told them they aren’t just facing anyone, he was phenomenal, and this was the house that AJ Styles built.
Zayn said he knew he was going to say that, because while he is phenomenal, he’s predictable. Every week he comes out and does his macho shtick, and it comes across as ignorance, which is the official language of Washington DC. They reminded AJ of his words from a few weeks ago that booked the handicap match, and said that he didn’t expect it to be taken seriously, but a distinguished gentlemen named Daniel Bryan is holding him to his words. They then asked Styles if he would keep his word form last week, and Styles had to ask him what they were talking about. They showed some footage of last week where Styles offered to fight them both individually on the same night, and asked him if he would keep his word tonight.
Styles began to respond, but Daniel Bryan walked out. He complimented Zayn and Owens, and Styles looked disgusted. He told Bryan that after all this, he’s not sure if Bryan was in bed with those dirtbags. He said he would answer their challenge, but said he wasn’t just going to beat them, he was going to hurt them….[c]
My Take: I had high hopes for this program, but I’m ready for it to be over. Styles calling Owens and Zayn Kami just isn’t happening. It’s so dumb I can’t believe they continue to use it. Owens and Zayn have been clever and funny, but they’ve played this program straight with both of them wanting to be co-champion, with Styles being the dopey Champion who insists he can overcome superhuman odds. I wanted something a bit more clever, and it just never materialized.
Backstage, Daniel Bryan walked up to Shane McMahon. Shane got upset that Bryan allowed AJ Styles to compete in two matches just a few days before a title defense, and Bryan said that he wasn’t going to sanction anything. Bryan said he didn’t think AJ has anything to prove, he’s the WWE Champion. Bryan then asked if Shane was questioning AJ’s ability to defense himself, and Shane responded that it wasn’t AJ’s ability he was questioning.
In the arena, Jey Uso made his entrance with Jimmy. Chad Gable made his entrance with Shelton.
1. Chad Gable vs. Jey Uso: Gable grabbed a single leg early, and eventually took down Jey. He then grabbed a waistlock and applied pressure. Jey fought to his feet, but Gable continued to quickly grab and ground him with his amateur wrestling moves. Jey was able to pick up some speed and send Gable to the floor when he refused to release a waistlock. Gable tried to get back in, but Jey knocked him back to the floor with an uppercut…[c]
Gable hit a bridging Northern Lights Suplex, but Jey kicked out at two. Jey was able to hit a superkick that sent Gable out to the floor. He tried to hit a dive, but was intercepted by Gable. After some partner distractions, Jey hit Gable on the floor with a splash. He went for a splash in the ring, but Gable moved. After a struggle and some reversals, Gable got the win with a rolling german.
Chad Gable defeated Jey Uso at 8:44.
Shinsuke Nakamura was interviewed backstage by Renee Young. She said in the past he’s said it was his destiny to become WWE Champion, but the Royal Rumble is a hard path, so how is he going to win? Nakamura said it was simple, he sees someone, they get a knee to the face. Rinse and repeat. Baron Corbin quickly walked up and said he was all hype and no go. He questioned Nakamura’s lack of accomplishments and said that it all gets ignored because fans like him. Well, he doesn’t care about the fans, because they don’t pay his bills, so they could keep their opinions to themselves. Nakamura said it’s not about what he’s done, it’s about what he will do in the Royal Rumble. He then told Corbin that they should rumble tonight.
In the arena, Naomi made her entrance…[c]
My Take: A nice win for Gable, but the program just isn’t lighting me on fire. I don’t really care about Gable or Benjamin as characters, and the Usos aren’t terribly sympathetic babyfaces either. Corbin and Nakamura’s promo was pretty boilerplate, though the fact that Nakamura got one at all is encouraging.
Liv Morgan was already in the ring.
2. Naomi vs. Liv Morgan: Naomi got the best of thing early on with a big kick. Morgan turned things around by tossing Naomi hard into the second turnbuckle. During the match, the rest of the Women’s division meandered down to the ring. Naomi got the win quickly after the roster spilled out to ringside with a sunset flip from the apron.
Naomi defeated Liv Morgan at 3:11.
Sara Logan and Ruby Riott entered and beat down Naomi. Becky Lynch entered and gave an assist, but got blindsided by Natalya. The brawl continued until Naomi and Becky were the last women in the ring. Becky tried to toss out Naomi, but she caught herself on the apron and stared Becky down. Charlotte then walked out and told Becky that she loved the fierceness. She said on Sunday it was every woman for herself, and wished everyone good luck, especially the winner. Corbin and Nakamura is next…[c]
My Take: The final hype for the Women’s Royal Rumble hasn’t really lived up to the historic moniker WWE is placing on the match. I’d like to see Becky Lynch get the victory and a title chance honestly, but I think the field is pretty wide open to surprises as well.
Shinsuke Nakamura made his entrance, followed by Baron Corbin.
3. Baron Corbin vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: For some reason, Corey Graves tried to make the case that Baron Corbin isn’t playing a character on commentary. Nakamura hit a knee to the ribs and good vibrations in the corner. Corbin rolled out to the floor and attempted to retreat. Nakamura followed and Corbin punched him in the throat. The then dragged him towards the ring, and threw him into the turnbuckle rigging throat first…[c]
Corbin fought to his feet out of a neck crank, and got the best of a strike exchange. He then hit a single leg dropkick, followed by a series of kicks. Nakamura hit a running knee in the corner, and then placed Corbin across the ropes for a knee to the ribs. He then went for Kinshasa, but Corbin reversed into a deep six for a near fall. Corbin followed up with a big lariat, but Nakamura again kicked out at 2. Corbin showed some frustration and went for End of Days, but Nakamura reversed into a flying armbar.
Corbin turned it into a pinfall, but Nakamura kicked out again. He hit a rebound kick and set up for Kinshasa, but Randy Orton appeared out of nowhere to hit an RKO.
Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Baron Corbon by DQ at 12:33.
Corbin got an RKO as well as the segment ended. The announce team threw to some headlines generated by Raw 25, and then showed some video highlights. Bobby Roode and New Day vs. Jinder Mahal and Rusev Day is next…[c]
My Take: The RKO to Nakamura looked really good on TV. Orton really appeared from out of frame and appeared to come from nowhere. Could you imagine another Randy Orton Rumble Win and WrestleMania Main Event? Shudder. I liked the Nakamura and Corbin match much more than their previous encounters. A lot of the clunkiness had been ironed out of this one.
New Day made their entrance. Big E and Xavier Woods got temporarily distracted by a weird fan in the front row after giving him pancakes. Big E said they were a part of history by being on the Raw 25 show. Kofi said they would also make history on Sunday by being a part of the Royal Rumble match on Sunday. Woods said their partner also made history last week by defeating two opponents to become the new US Champion. Bobby Roode then made his entrance while New Day Danced.
Roode said he couldn’t think of a place more fitting to debut as the new US Champion than right here in the nation’s capitol Washington DC. Roode said his goal was to be the greatest US Champion of all time. He knows that’s a tough task, but he knows it will be absolutely glorious. New Day and Roode did some dancing and did the Glorious pose. He was followed by Rusev Day and Jinder Mahal…[c]
4. Bobby Roode and New Day vs. Jinder Mahal and Rusev Day: The match was joined in progress with the heels cutting off Kofi Kingston on their half of the ring. Rusev applied a bear hug, and then hit a spear in the corner. Rusev then knocked Xavier Woods off the apron. Kofi fought his way back into the match with a bulldog, and made a tag to Bobby Roode.
Bobby cleaned house with a neckbreaker, and knocked Jinder Mahal to the floor. He then hit a blockbuster and did his glorious catchphrase. Jinder Mahal ran in and took a spinebuster. Rusev blindsided Roode with a kick, and English rolled him up for a near fall. Kofi entered and splashed Rusev and Mahal out on the floor. Roode hit the ropes and Woods hit him for a blind tag. Roode then hit a spinebuster on English, and Woods hit an elbow drop for the win.
New Day and Bobby Roode defeated Jinder Mahal and Rusev Day at 4:55.
After the match, the announce team ran down the Royal Rumble card. AJ Styles then made his entrance in the arena. He didn’t waste any time getting straight to the ring. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn made their entrance. Shane interrupted and told Sami to come to the back with him. Shane said he was banned from ringside, and if he got involved in Kevin’s match, he would lose his opportunity at the WWE Championship on Sunday because he would fire him on the spot. The same applied to Kevin for Sami’s match, whether he wins or loses his own. They bickered on the ramp…[c]
My Take: I’m assuming everyone involved in the six man tag will be in the Rumble? I’m also surprised we aren’t seeing a big multi-man match to close the show, since they usually close the go home show for the Rumble with a big brawl. I guess we’re blazing new trails tonight, unless something really unexpected happens.
5. Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles: Both men traded offense to start the match. AJ hit a nice dropkick and was able to avoid a cannonball from Owens in the corner. AJ kicked him in the leg and then applied the Calf Crusher, at which point Owens tapped immediately.
AJ Styles defeated Kevin Owens at 1:39.
After the match, Styles refused to release the hold. He was then ambushed by Sami Zayn, who was relentless with punches, and then pulled AJ out to the floor and tossed him into the steps. Owens writhed in pain out on the floor near the ramp…[c]
My Take: Owens did a great job selling the knee. Upon a second watch I didn’t see anything that would make me think he would have actually gotten injured, so I’m assuming that was great selling and part of a larger plan.
6. Sami Zayn vs. AJ Styles: Owens was being attended to by a trainer at ringside. Zayn showed some viciousness and tossed Styles hard into the turnbuckle. He covered for a two count. Zayn then hit a hard lariat and covered for a near fall. Zayn applied a chinlock as they rolled out a stretcher for Kevin Owens. Styles broke free of a chinlock with a combination of a strikes, followed by a diving forearm. Styles hit a stinger splash, and then tossed Sami out to the floor next to the trainers and Owens. He then hit a springboard forearm on to Zayn out on the floor. He tossed Sami back into the ring and ten took some free shots at Kevin Owens out on the floor. Sami was able to follow up and hit him with a clothesline…[c]
Zayn applied a chinlock in the ring as trainers continued to attend to Owens. Styles and Zayn fought their way onto the top rope, where Styles hit a top rope hurricanrana. They both got to their feet and traded punches, and then Styles caught Zayn coming off the ropes for an Ushigoroshi for a near fall. Styles set up for a Styles Clash, but Zayn blocked it. Zayn then hit a big tornado DDT and took a long pause to set up for a Heluva Kick. Styles got a boot up, hit a pele kick a short time later for another near fall.
Styles grabbed a waistlock, but Zayn elbowed out. He then caught Styles in a Michinoku Driver a moment later for a near fall. Zayn set Styles up on the top rope, and set up for a superplex, but Styles slipped out. He then went for another Styles Clash, but Zayn rolled out to the floor. AJ followed and tossed Zayn back in the ring, and then tipped over the gurney that Owens was on. AJ got back in the ring and ate a Heluva Kick, and then a Blue Thunder Bomb. Zayn got the three count.
Sami Zayn defeated AJ Styles at 16:44.
After the match, Owens and Zayn celebrated over the fallen Styles.
My Take: That match was a lot of fun, but the trend of Styles being a moron because it’s required by the story is a bit tired. WWE should be able to conceive of a way to craft stories that doesn’t require their workhorse champion to suddenly lack intelligence and focus because it’s a convenient method to make a handicap match seem like a legitimate threat to his title. The lack of any desire from the ego driven heels to be the sole champion also seems out of character. The continued involvement of the authority figures has also muddled the situation. I am quite unimpressed with this story overall.