By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Smackdown on USA Network
Live from Bakersfield, California at Rabobank Arena
[Q1] Smackdown opened with Dolph Ziggler walking out to no entrance music and standing on the stage while a spotlight was on him. He took a couple of steps forward and his usual awful music played. Ziggler headed to the ring.
The broadcast team of Tom Phillips, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton checked in and hyped the Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin match and recapped how the match became for a spot in the Fastlane main event.
Baron Corbin’s entrance music played, but he didn’t come out. The music played again and the broadcast team chalked it up to Corbin playing mind games. However, the cameras cut backstage where Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were beating up Corbin. “One down, one more to go,” Owens said.
Owens and Zayn headed to the ring. Ziggler put up a fight, but they eventually outnumbered him and left him lying. As they were backing up the ramp, Corbin ran out and hit Owens with a forearm. Owens and Zayn quickly regrouped and worked him over again. WWE producer Adam Pearce and referees ran out to intervene… [C]
Powell’s POV: A good and unexpected opening with Owens and Zayn attempting to take out their Fastlane competition. This establishes that they are back on the same page despite facing one another in a match last week. It’s also a nice hook for the show in terms of keeping viewers watching to see how Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan will react and whether there will still be a four-way match. By the way, I am swapping roles with Jake Barnett this week, as I am filling in for him with live coverage tonight while he is writing the Smackdown Hit List for tomorrow.
An ad for the Elimination Chamber hyped seven men competing in the match for the first time ever…
Powell’s POV: Does this mean WWE will eventually feel compelled to have a first ever seven-woman Elimination Chamber match someday? I’m only half kidding.
The broadcast team recapped show opening angle…
[Q2] 1. Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair (w/Becky Lynch, Naomi) vs. Sarah Logan (w/Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan) in a non-title match. Saxton said he spoke with Charlotte after she beat Morgan last week and she told him “one down, two to go.” Before the match, Lynch and Naomi came out to be in Charlotte’s corner. Charlotte kicked Logan to ringside heading into a break. [C]
The two-screen ad aired so the match continued to be shown. Charlotte did her father’s flip over the ropes in the corner during the break. Logan came back and awkwardly applied a Cobra Clutch. Charlotte quickly regained control. Logan chopped her. Charlotte returned fire with several chops.
Logan performed a rough suplex. Logan performed a dropkick for a two count. Logan performed a short-arm clothesline for another two count. Charlotte missed a big boot and was hung up in the ropes, which allowed Logan to suplex her for another two count. Logan showed frustration. Charlotte came back with a forearm to the face, but Logan pulled her aggressively into the middle turnbuckle. Charlotte came back with a backbreaker and then drove Logan’s face into the top turnbuckle. Charlotte followed up with a Natural Selection for the win…
Charlotte defeated Sarah Logan in 10:15 in a non-title match.
Powell’s POV: A longer than expected match. Logan received plenty of offense and it was clunky at times yet more good than bad. It was nice to see a competitive match here rather than Charlotte simply plowing through her second Riott Squad member in as many weeks. I guess this means we’ll be seeing Charlotte vs. Ruby Riott next week. Here’s hoping that the match has a non-finish or even Riott getting a cheap win because it will make the Riott Squad seem pretty weak if they lose three straight singles matches.
[Q3] Backstage, Shane McMahon asked Daniel Bryan if Owens and Zayn are really the type of champions he’s looking for. Shane said they were banged up and still looking for competition. Shane announced Baron Corbin vs. Kevin Owens, and Dolph Ziggler vs. Sami Zayn for later in the show. he said that if Corbin or Ziggler win then they will be added to the Fastlane main event meaning it could be a Triple Threat, four-way, or even a five-way. He added that if Owens or Zayn interfered in the other’s match then they were out of the main event. Shane told Bryan he would see him later. “Okay,” Bryan replied… [C]
Powell’s POV: It’s comical that Shane keeps getting pissed off at Owens and Zayn and even Bryan, yet he never truly puts his foot down. In this case, he’s even giving Owens and Zayn a chance to eliminate both men from the title match at Fastlane just as they wanted. For what it’s worth, I’ll take the two new matches over seeing yet another Corbin vs. Ziggler match. Will we ever hear an explanation from Ziggler about why his character forfeited the championship and walked out and why he’s back now?
A Black History Month video aired with footage of various WWE personalities at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis…
2. Kevin Owens vs. Baron Corbin. Corbin will be in the WWE Championship match if he wins. Owens hit a cannonball and covered Corbin for two heading into a break. [C]
[Q4] Corbin did the spot where he slides under the ropes and races back into the ring to clothesline his opponents. Late in the match, Corbin hit End of Days and pinned Owens clean…
Baron Corbin defeated Kevin Owens in 11:05 to earn a spot in the WWE Championship match at WWE Fastlane.
Powell’s POV: It was a little awkward to start given that both men are heels and the fans didn’t have a strong rooting interest, but the wrestlers worked hard and had the crowd reaction to the bigger moves down the stretch.
The broadcast team recapped the Top 10 list: 1. Styles. 2. Charlotte. 3. Shinsuke Nakamura. 4. Naomi. 5. Bobby Roode. 6. New Day. 7. The Usos. 8. Becky Lynch. 9. Randy Orton. 10. Tye Dillinger. Saxton said the list has been the hottest topic of conversation amongst the wrestlers in the locker room all week. Graves hyped Bobby Roode’s open challenge for after the break… [C]
Bobby Roode made his entrance and delivered a promo about how he wants to surpass John Cena and in order to do so needed to take a page out of his playbook via the U.S. Open Challenge. Roode said the challenge was open to anyone, but he hoped that the person who took it would face him face-to-face rather than deliver an RKO out of nowhere. Randy Orton made his entrance.
[Q5] Jinder Mahal and the healthy Singh Brother made his entrance and taunted Orton about being ranked number nine in the Smackdown Top 10. Mahal said the rest of the Smackdown roster thinks Orton has already peaked. Orton took the mic and said he doesn’t give a damn about top ten lists and never will.
Mahal continued to taunt Orton about how Roode finished higher on the list than he did. Fans chanted for an RKO. Mahal said he respects Orton, while Roode fancies himself as a future legend killer. Roode pointed out that Mahal isn’t on the list and said it’s because no one respects him.
Roode said he respects Orton, but perhaps the reason he finished low in the rankings is because people are tired of him attacking them out of nowhere. “Like when I do this?” Orton asked before hitting the RKO on the Singh Brother. Mahal ended up hitting Orton and Roode with his Khallas finisher…
Powell’s POV: Good use of the awful top ten format. But they could have accomplished the same thing without making the ranking a popularity contest that oddly includes women and tag teams rather than serving as a list of the top ten challengers for the WWE Championship. Yes, they would have needed to change the wording a bit since the promo was based on Orton not having respect in the locker room, but the same thing could have been accomplished had Mahal needled Orton about ranking lower than Roode in rankings made by the authority figures or a championship committee.
Graves hyped Ronda Rousey signing her Raw contract at the Elimination Chamber as a graphic was shown…
New Day made their entrance. There was a table set up in the ring with plates of pancakes. Kofi Kingston noted that it was Fat Tuesday a/k/a Pancake Tuesday. Xavier Woods said Big E was going to break the record by beating 108 pancakes in eight minutes. There was a timer on the screen and Big E started chowing down pancakes.
[Q6] Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin interrupted the eating contest and told New Day they could leave the tag titles to serious contenders. Woods took issue with them claiming New Day are not serious competitors and told them to check the record books for longest reigning champions. Gable said they have a serious side and asked what would happen as he and Benjamin threw pancakes on the mat. They also threw a tray of pancakes. Big E got pissed and had to be held back by his partners heading into a break. [C]
Powell’s POV: The world’s greatest man Takeru Kobayashi(screw creepy Joey Chestnut) is not impressed by Big E’s effort. The Japanese eating icon is even a wrestling fan. He even showed up out of nowhere at a Resistance Pro event in Minneapolis for what turned out to be Billy Corgan’s final show as the creative director for the group.
3. Big E and Kofi Kingston (w/Xavier Woods) vs. Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin. The match started during the two-screen commercial break. Gable impressively performed his rolling German suplex on Big E. Woods distracted the referee, who missed Gable tagging in Benjamin. With Gable stuck in the match, Big E and Kingston hit Midnight Hour on him and pinned him…
Big E and Kofi Kingston beat Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin.
Powell’s POV: Pancake Day wasn’t nearly as awful as I feared it would be with New Day on the show. If nothing else, that part was quick and mostly painless. New Day got the win while Benjamin and Gable were protected to some extent with the referee being distracted by Woods. I smell a rematch.
Backstage, Renee Young interviewed Dolph Ziggler and brought up he relinquishing the title and disappearing. Ziggler said he knows he needs to be more selective when it comes to picking his spots. He said he has another opportunity. He said he loves what he does and it’s about doing what he was put on the planet to do. He said no one can do what he does and no one outshines him. He said no one knows that better than Owens and Zayn and they know he won’t be stopped. Ziggler said he’s back for the one thing that’s eluded him his entire career. Ziggler said he wants to main event WrestleMania and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t walk in as WWE Champion…
Powell’s POV: As expected, there is no good explanation for Ziggler forfeiting the U.S. Title and then disappearing. With that in mind, I guess I won’t even bother wondering how Ziggler will explain when he sticks around even after he fails to headline WrestleMania.
[Q7] [C] The WrestleMania video aired. We are 54 days away from Dolph Ziggler not headlining the biggest show of the year…
The Usos delivered a backstage promo while the stupid Smackdown word graphics appeared as they said key words. As they were finishing the promo, the television screen they were on suddenly shattered by hammers. The cameras showed The Bludgeon Brothers standing by after smashing the television…
In the Gorilla Position, Kevin Owens told Sami Zayn that he can’t lose because it would hurt their chances at Fastlane. Owens told Zayn not to let him down. Zayn told Owens there is no “we” in the championship match and it’s every man for himself. Zayn made his entrance. Ziggler walked out holding his neck without entrance music initially, then that awful theme played once he started walking toward the ring… [C]
Phillips announced Charlotte, Naomi, and Becky Lynch vs. Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, and Sarah Logan for next week…
4. Dolph Ziggler vs. Sami Zayn. Ziggler will be added to the WWE Championship match if he wins. Zayn ducked between the ropes early on. Ziggler eventually hit him with a big punch.
[Q8] Zayn took a powder at ringside after taking a two count and soaked up boos from the fans. Once back in the ring, Zayn got Ziggler turned around in the corner and threw repeated punches to the back of his head. Ziggler caught Zayn coming off the ropes with a dropkick heading into a break. [C]
A Mixed Match Challenge ad aired for the Rusev and Lana vs. Elias and Bayley match (follow along with my live review on the main page right after Smackdown).
Back to the match, Ziggler hit the Fameasser for a two count. Ziggler looked to the crowd and got some cheers before going to the top rope. Zayn tripped him up. Zayn followed up with an exploder suplex from the ropes. A short time later, Ziggler avoided a Helluva Kick and hit a Fameasser for a two count. A brief “this is awesome” chant broke out.
Kevin Owens was shown watching the match on a backstage monitor. Zayn performed an exploder suplex into the corner. Zayn went for a Helluva Kick, but Ziggler caught him with a superkick and pinned him…
Dolph Ziggler pinned Sami Zayn in 16:10.
The broadcast team hyped AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler in a five-way for the WWE Championship as the Fastlane main event. Ziggler celebrated on the broadcast team’s table to close the show…
Powell’s POV: This seemed like a strange choice to close the show. Zayn is a heel and no one could possibly know what Ziggler is at this point. The crowd was even slower to get into this match than the earlier heel vs. heel match and it was hard to blame them. However, they eventually came around to rooting for Ziggler as the match quality and Zayn’s heel antics won them over. The idea of WWE going with a five-way main event on one show and a seven-way Elimination Chamber match is just too much. And yet despite this being a very strange edition of Smackdown in some ways, it also had some quality in-ring action. I don’t feel any better about the creative direction than I did going in, but I came away entertained by this edition.