By Jake Barnett, Prowrestling.net Senior Staffer (@barnettjake)
WWE Smackdown on USA Network
Live from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at Wells Fargo Center
Shinsuke Nakamura was introduced to open the show and made his way out to the ring. ROCKSTAR scrolled across the screen in large red letters while he posed in the ring. Shinsuke had a microphone and recounted hitting Sami Zayn, John Cena, and Roman Reigns with a knee to the face. He then said at WrestleMania, AJ Styles…..Knee….Face…..New WWE Champion. He then pointed to the WrestleMania sign, but was then interrupted by Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn.
They said Shinsuke can point all he wants, but two nights ago they were screwed out of being the first ever Co-WWE Champions. They then introduced some still footage that highlight the controversial finish of the match. Owens complained that they were victims of the vendetta machine constructed by Shane McMahon. Sami grabbed the microphone and said that Kevin’s Passion caused him to intervene in the match, and that he had not tagged himself in. Any way you slice it, AJ Styles pinned the wrong man. They claimed they are entitled to another shot, and that he would be facing the two of them at WrestleMania.
Shinsuke responded by calling AJ Styles a winner, and them losers. Sami and Kevin got fired up, but AJ Styles made his way out before they could do anything. AJ said that they could whine and complain all they want, but the match at WrestleMania would be between him and Shinsuke Nakamura. AJ offered to turn their dream match into a dream team to take on Kevin and Sami tonight. The crowd was into it. AJ and Shinsuke stepped up, but Sami and Kevin backed away up the ramp.
They eventually approached the apron again and said “Nope!”, and AJ and Shinsuke knocked them to the floor. Kofi Kingston vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Zack Ryder vs. Rusev is next to determine the #1 Contender for the US Championship.
My Take: Shinsuke gave his best promo to date, which admittedly isn’t saying much, but he had more confidence here than he has at any point in the past. The lack of authority figures intervening in this portion of the show makes me wonder if they are saving it for later or dialing it back.
Backstage, Daniel Bryan was approached by Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens. He made the match between the two of them, AJ Styles, and Shinsuke Nakamura. They complained about their situation from Sunday, and Bryan agreed with them. He said he was going to give them another chance at the WWE Championship. Next week, the main event of Smackdown for a match with AJ Styles at Fastlane will be Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn. Everyone for the first match was already in the ring.
1. Jinder Mahal vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Zack Ryder vs. Rusev: Bobby Roode was on commentary as Big E tossed pancakes at Corey Graves. Jinder Mahal and Kofi began the match and were quickly dumped out to the floor. Rusev started beating down Zack Ryder, while Mahal had control of Kofi. They worked from corner to corner Kofi hit a dropkick on Rusev after getting whipped out of the corner, and then got hit with a neckbreaker by Ryder. He covered, but Jinder Mahal broke up the pin.
Rusev and Kofi were now on the floor while Ryder and Mahal battled in the ring. Ryder sent Mahal to the floor in front of the announce crew. He followed up with a kick through the ropes. Kofi splashed them both with a fosbury flop. Rusev fired up for dive of his own, but Sunil Singh grabbed his leg as he hit the ropes. Woods, Big E, Aiden English, and Sunil Singh were tossed to the back…[c]
Jinder tossed Kofi into the ring steps on the outside, and then Rusev into the post. He tossed Ryder back into the ring and roughed him up with knee strikes. Rusev entered and dumped Jinder back out to the floor. He then turned into a missile dropkick from Ryder, who then beat him down with punches before hitting a Broski Boot. Mahal re-entered and hit a big boot to Ryder. He covered him for a near fall. He then covered Rusev for another one.
Kofi hit a springboard palm strike and a boom drop on Mahal. He then hit SOS on Ryder, which was broken up by Mahal. He then turned Kofi inside out with a clothesline. Rusev kicked Jinder and stacked up Ryder and Kofi for a Stackolade. Jinder broke it up and then grabbed Rusev in a cobra clutch. Ryder ran at Rusev, who ducked, and Ryder hit Mahal with a Rough Ryder. Kofi went for an SOS on Rusev, but he avoided it and applied the Accolade on Kofi. After a short while, he tapped and Rusev got the win.
Rusev defeated Kofi Kingston, Jinder Mahal, and Zack Ryder at 15:32
After the match, Rusev stared down Roode to a muted reaction. The Usos were shown backstage with Blue Text as sort of subtitles for emphasis for their key phrases. They talked about having the tag division on lock. They’ll be out next…[c]
My Take: I enjoyed that match. It lacked energy at times, but I think that was mostly due to the competitors working cold without much of a feud involved. Rusev getting the win got a decent pop, and yet his confrontation with Roode wasn’t all that hot. In a perfect world, one of the two of them would be a strong heel, but it just wasn’t there.
We got a Fashion Files segment where Breezango answered social media questions. They basically passed on all the questions The Ascension had collected. Gable and Benjamin walked up and called them embarrassing. Breeze retorted that it wasn’t as embarrassing as them losing to the Uso’s twice at the Royal Rumble. Gable and Benjamin then challenged them to a match later, and tipped over their makeshift social media table. In the arena, The Usos made their entrance.
Jimmy asked if it was the City of Brotherly Love, and asked the crowd to show some love for their Smackdown Tag Team Champions. They said they swept Gable and Benjamin just like they’ve been sweeping through the whole tag division. They ran through their list of opponents, and locked them all down. The crowd didn’t react hardly at all. This crowd sucks. They then did a call and response about everyone’s struggle. Nobody reacted. They spoke about struggling with life and choosing to go through their struggles together. They said that’s something they have that nobody else does, and it makes them the best tag team in WWE. As they attempted to make their exit, the Bludgeon Brothers made their entrance…[c]
2. The Bludgeon Brothers vs. Jobbers: The names of their opponents were not given. One of them tried to turn and leave, but was cornered by Harper on the outside and then tagged by Rowan holding and touching his partner to him. They then hit a double team powerbomb in each man and covered for the win.
The Bludgeton Brothers defeated Jobbers at 1:21.
After the match, Daniel Bryan was shown backstage and introduced the Smackdown Top 10 lists. For the first week the Smackdown Superstars will vote on who they think are deserving of future opportunities. Shane and Bryan will get a vote, and Superstars cannot vote for themselves. Elsewhere, Tye Dillinger approached Shane McMahon to complain about what happened to him at the Rumble. Baron Corbin interrupted and demanded Shane do something about Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn getting another title shot, because it belonged to him. Dillinger got in Corbin’s face, and then Shane made a match between them for later. In the arena, Charlotte made her entrance…[c]
My Take: I was hoping this show would get some momentum after the Royal Rumble, but thus far it feels very business as usual. The worked top 10 is an interesting idea, but execution is everything and I have a feeling it’s going to feel pretty contrived. The Bludgeon Brothers will make fun opponents for the Usos, but I think they should have done more character work first. The Usos feel developed and 3 dimensional and by comparison I don’t know why I should care about the Bludgeon Brothers.
A video package aired that covered Ronda Rousey’s entrance into WWE. In the ring, Renee Young asked Charlotte how it felt to witness the historic first Women’s Royal Rumble. She said she was proud of all the women, and wished she could have entered at #3 at outlasted all of them like some guy she knows. She then pivoted to the Rousey moment, and said that all she knows is that she is going into WrestleMania as the Smackdown Women’s Champion, and the question is who will be standing across from her.
She was then interrupted by the Riott Squad, who said that she was arrogant and entitled. Her ego is as big as her father’s, and of course she thinks she’d have won the Royal Rumble, and of course she’d think she could hand pick her opponent. Ruby then said that she had run into women like her at every stage of her life, and while Ruby is an original, but Charlotte is just a cheap imitation of her father. Charlotte took all three of them on and sent them packing to the outside, before getting swarmed and beaten down on the second attempt. After the beat down, the picked her up center ring and Ruby hit her with the Riott Kick.
After the beat down, Carmella ran down and attempted to cash in her briefcase. The ref tried to hand the briefcase back to the timekeeper, but Carmella ended up kicking him out of the ring inadvertently while going after Charlotte. She eventually had to bail out on her opportunity because the ref never recovered and Charlotte did. Backstage, AJ Styles approached Shinsuke about their tag match. At first, all Nakamura would say is that he was going to beat Styles at WrestleMania. Styles asked if he was messing with him, and he was. He said they’d be fine in their tag match, and all AJ had to do is listen to him.
Back in the arena, Tye Dillinger made his entrance…[c]
My Take: The attempted Cash In got a huge reaction, as it always does. A nice reminder that it’s still in play. It makes you wonder if we’re headed for a cash in before Fastlane, forcing Charlotte to try and win back her Championship before WrestleMania at Fastlane.
Backstage, Carmella said it went exactly how she wanted it to go. Video played right over her promo, as she told Renee that she just wanted to remind Charlotte that she was the most dangerous woman on Smackdown Live. In the arena, Baron Corbin made his entrance.
3. Baron Corbin vs. Tye Dillinger: Tye took things to the floor and sent Corbin into the barricade. He then hit a flying forearm and tossed Corbin back in the ring. Corbin turned things around and rained down punches on Dillinger. He then hit a big splash in the corner and tossed Dillinger out to the floor over the top rope…[c]
They worked back and forth after Corbin controlled the action during the commercial. Dillinger went for the Tye Breaker, but Corbin escaped and hit a clothesline to the back of the neck. Corbin hit End of Day somewhat anticlimactically and got the pinfall victory.
Baron Corbin defeated Tye Dillinger at 9:33.
We got a few new production flourishes during some brief promos from Bobby Roode and Rusev. Rusev said Next Tuesday would be his greatest Rusev Day, and Roode said it would be Glorious, as you’d expect. Elsewhere, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens sat backstage, and gave the positive and negatives of them facing each other next week. The sowed some dissention by having each of them point out each others failures. Sami pointed out Kevin got pinned on Sunday, and Kevin reminded Sami of getting eliminated from the Rumble in like 5 minutes. Kevin told Sami that he wouldn’t let him fail….tonight…[c]
My Take: Corbin gains nothing for beating a guy like Tye Dillinger. Tye has never evolved past the perfect 10 gimmick, and it doesn’t look like he’s headed in that direction anytime soon. He needs to modify his gimmick or find a new character that lets him express himself.
4. Breezango vs. Gable and Benjamin: Benjamin and Fandango started the match, with Benjamin quickly cutting off Fandango and making quick tags. Fandango reversed a wheelbarrow facebuster into a bulldog. He attempted to tag out, but Gable quickly pulled Breeze from the apron. Gabe wrenched on the arm of Fandango to maintain control, but Fandango was finally able to make a tag after avoiding a clothesline. Breeze missed a blind tag by Benjamin, and got caught by a Super Powerbomb from Gable and Benjamin for the three count.
Gable and Benjamin defeated Breezango at 4:21.
The announce team hyped up the main event for next…[c]
My Take: This crowd is death. I’m not sure if it’s a bunch of holdovers from The Rumble and Raw, but they either don’t care about Smackdown or are supremely burnt out. Just nothing for this match. Not even the high spots.
A WrestleMania promo aired. The Main Event was joined as the bell rang.
5. Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: Kevin Owens yelled at Shinsuke Nakamura as he worked through his early match shtick on Sami Zayn. AJ Styles tagged in and hit a big dropkick, and then tagged Shinsuke back in. Zayn managed to backup Shinsuke into his corner and that gave Owens an opening to beat him down. Owens tossed Shinsuke down and then back into the corner for Sami Zayn to take potshots. They made rapid tags and wore down Shinsuke with strikes.
Shinsuke fired back with a forearm and then some knee strikes. Zayn offered a distraction to break up the assault, and ended up getting sent out of the ring near the ramp. Sami was slow to get back to his corner and Owens yelled at him. They eventually confronted one another on the outside and Sami walked out. Owens asked him what the hell he was doing…[c]
Sami remained on the top of the ramp as Owens held AJ Styles in a chin lock. Styles broke free and hit a forearm smash and a clothesline in the corner. Styles hit a facebuster and Zayn broke up the pin and made a tag. Zayn rained down punches on Styles and then hit a back body drop. Owens demanded a tag, and eventually got one. He then hit a running senton and slapped Zayn in the chest for a tag. They argued about the rumble and Sami slapped him back. AJ rolled up Owens while they argued, but only got a near fall. Styles ran Owens into Zayn, who got fired up and left.
Owens hit a gutbuster on Styles and an elbow drop out of the corner for a near fall. Styles broke free and hit a pele kick, which bought enough room for a tag. Nakamura hit a series of kicks, and lined up for Kinshasa. Owens tried to roll out and escape, but Styles tossed him back into the ring for a wheel kick and Kinshasa for the win.
AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at 13.15.
After the match, Sami Zayn was interviewed backstage. Renee Young asked him if it was the end of his partnership with Kevin Owens. Zayn said it’s not the end of their friendship, because this isn’t about friendship, it’s about opportunity and Owens knows that. He said Owens had been Universal Champion and US Champion, and he’s been living in his shadow. After next week, he wouldn’t be known as Kevin Owens friend, he would be known as the man who beat Kevin Owens and AJ Styles to become WWE Champion.
My Take: You could see the rift in their friendship coming from a mile away, but I’m honestly left with the question of why it couldn’t have happened over a period of weeks heading into their match at the Royal Rumble rather than the poorly executed TV we saw instead? The last month of Smackdown was brutal because they decided to avoid telling this story, and now they burned through most of it in a single night. I’m glad we’re here now, but it lack a bit of tension and drama because of the compressed time frame.