By Jake Barnett, Prowrestling.net Senior Staffer (@barnettjake)
WWE Smackdown Live on USA Network
Live from Los Angeles, California at Staples Center
John Cena made his way out to the ring to start the show. He had on his very lime green get up on, and got a solid reaction from the crowd. Cena told the crowd he was ready to rock it tonight, and said he was there to find his road to WrestleMania. He mentioned Shinuske Nakamura and his guaranteed title match, but quickly pivoted to the Fatal Five Way at Fastlane and said he wanted in. He pointed to the WrestleMania sign and said he wanted to know what he had to do to get there, and then Shane McMahon’s music hit.
Shane played to the crowd for a moment before addressing Cena. Shane said that everyone is looking for their role at WrestleMania, but the path he is advocating for puts him directly in the picture for the WWE Championship. A crowd chant started, and Cena said he thinks that’s why he should be in that match. A Rusev Day chant broke out, but Shane ignored it and told Cena that if he won that match and went to WrestleMania as WWE Champion, he would make history as the 17-Time World Champion. Shane said it is the land of opportunity, however….
Daniel Bryan interrupted and made his way out to the ring. Bryan said he thinks that tonight he and Shane are the same page. He told Cena that everyone who is in that earned their way in, and he’s going to give Cena that same opportunity. Cena accepted, and wanted to know his opponent is. Bryan told him that it was someone he was very familiar with, and it would be none other than the WWE Champion AJ Styles.
Naomi vs. Ruby Riott, and Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin were plugged for later…[c]
My Take: I’m guessing Cena finds a way to win later, but he’ll likely get some help he didn’t ask for. Cena is an instant upgrade for this show, even with his traditional 50/50 crowd split. He’s a major star and even coming off some losses he’s a shot in the arm to this title match that had nothing going at Fastlane.
Sami Zayn made his entrance, followed by Baron Corbin. Kevin Owens joined on commentary.
1. Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin: Zayn avoided Corbin and exited the ring in the opening moment. He entered the ring by springing over the top of Corbin, but he caught a Lariat and had to escape back to the floor. Corbin pursued, but got tossed into the announce table. Corbin fired back with a right hand as Zayn tried to springboard into the ring. Back on the floor, Zayn backdropped Corbin into the crowd. The match cut away to Bryan and Shane arguing backstage about Kevin Owens being allowed on commentary. Shane insisted he was going to interfere in the match, and Bryan said there was no reason he should…[c]
Zayn held a chinlock while the cameras cut back to Shane eating pocorn. He was skeptical of Owens, and Bryan said Owens made some insightful comments. Corbin turned Zayn inside out with a Bossman Clothesline, but Zayn sent him out to the floor soon after with a low bridge. Corbin caught Zayn from a springboard attempt, and then tossed him onto the announce table. Corbin heeled it up with Owens, and then tossed Sami back into the ring.
Dolph Ziggler snuck up on Owens and kicked him in the back of the head. Zayn got distracted by the attack and walked into an End of Days, and Corbin pinned him.
Baron Corbin defeated Sami Zayn at 11:34.
After the match, Dolph hit Cobin with a Zig Zag and walked off. In the replay, it looked like Ziggler landed a bit more flush than may have been intended. After the match, Shane told Bryan that his boys got what they deserved. He told Bryan that he should go check on them, but Bryan balked and said that he was going to go home and see his family since Shane had it under control. Shane said it was a great idea…[c]
My Take: Not much of a match, honestly, due to all the cut ins and distractions. The Ziggler attack looked good, and I hope it didn’t look too good. Owens may have gotten kicked in the back of the head, which can’t make for a good night.
Backstage, Shane told Owens and Zayn that they should chase after Bryan, because Brie never likes it when they’re all late for dinner. In the arena, Ruby Riott made her entrance, followed by Becky, Charlotte, and Naomi. The announcers were utterly obnoxious during the entrances.
2. Naomi vs. Ruby Riott: They went face to face to start the match. Naomi hit a huge slap, and Ruby regrouped out on the floor. The babyface trio pursued the Riott Squad on the outside…[c]
Carmella was shown backstage on her phone. Both women landed high kicks that sent them both down. Naomi hit rapid fire kicks and a springboard kick for a near fall. Ruby attempted to escape to ringside, but was pulled back in. Naomi went for the rear view, but Ruby avoided it and hit a forearm shiver. Naomi hit a scorpion kick and went for a bulldog, but Ruby shoved her into the corner. She then hit a Riott Kick and got the win.
Ruby Riott defeated Naomi at 8:32
After the match, Becky and Charlotte entered the ring and Charlotte stared down Ruby as she left up the ram with the Riott Squad.
My Take: The Riott Kick just isn’t a big finish. It just doesn’t have a lot of dramatic flair to it. The match also never really got out of second gear. Some good moments but a bit clunky overall.
Josh Duhamel approached the Breezango backstages and told them he was their fashion Icons. He’s on the new USA show about the murder of Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur. New Day walked up and Breezango thought the show was about Big E. He did a rap for them, but Duhamel had to remind them that he wasn’t really a detective. Breezango was puzzled, and stared off deep in thought. New Day congratulated him on his show and he walked off…[c]
My Take: The only interesting thing about this segment to me is that Josh Duhamel is alleged to have purchased steroids from the same guy who claims to have sold steroids to Roman Reigns (who issued a statement denying he knows the steroid ring leader). Everything else was a plug for a TV Show that I probably won’t watch.
New Day made their entrance with horrific graphics on the screen. Big E poured some pancakes on a lady for good measure. Xavier Woods said they were looking to secure their position for WrestleMania. Kofi said first, they would have to take on their greatest rivals, who pushed them to their limits, in the Usos. Big E said their rivalry was hotter than his inner thighs in the Summer…..or Winter. He then had Kofi spritz his inner thighs with some kind of spray for an uncomfortably long time. They said once they get their titles back, they’ll head down to Bourbon Street and party with the whole WWE Universe. The Usos then made their entrance to interrupt.
Jimmy Uso said there they go again, spreading the power of positivity through some pancakes. He said they went head to head, and there was only one team left standing tall with the Smackdown Tag Team Championships. Jey said they used to be just like them wearing rainbow colors and dancing around, but that didn’t take them to the next level. Jimmy Uso said they’ve been grinding for the past 9 years with blood, sweat, and tears with no shot at WrestleMania. They said for the past 9 years they’ve been sidelined, but this year is their year.
They said at Fastlane they’d run through them like they always do. This year they are the starters and New Day will be on the sideline. They told New Day they were stuck in the past, the future was right here in front of them. Big E fired back and said that they spent the last five years on top where they belong. They hosted WrestleMania while the Usos were eating catering, and they weren’t there because of their Daddies. They said they were on top because they rushed the field, and at Fastlane they would take what was currently theirs, and go onto WrestleMania as the 5 time WWE World Tag Team Champions.
A scuffle nearly broke out, but Harper and Rowan madej their way out to confront both teams. They stood on the apron with their hammers, and both teams peeled off and left. Footage was shown from earlier today with English and Rusev meeting with Shane. They complained about not being on Smackdown for the past two weeks. He didn’t give Rusev a match, but English will face Shinsuke Nakamura…[c]
My Take: A very good promo once things got intense between The Usos and New Day. Big E could be a successful singles act if they ever decide to send him in that direction. He’s gained so much confidence over the years that he could really seize that moment. The Usos continue to be fantastic on the microphone, and these two teams elevate each other when they get the opportunity.
Bobby Roode was interviewed backstage by Renee Young. She asked about putting his championship on the line against Randy Orton. Roode said he was excited, because Randy Orton is one of the greatest WWE Superstars of all time, even though he has a problem with him as of late. He wondered if it’s really the Smackdown Top 10 List that was the problem, but Orton walked up and told him it’s the title that he hasn’t gotten his hands on in 16 years. He said he would go through him to do it.
In the arena, Aiden English sang about how LA is a smog filled hell hole, and he’s the one true artist. He told the crowd that none of them deserve to celebrate Rusev Day. After the song, Shinsuke Nakamura made his entrance.
3. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Aiden English: English applied a wrist lock, but Shinsuke escaped acrobatically. Nakamura did his “Come on” taunt, and hit a knee to the ribs of English. The match moved outside as Nakamura pursued English and hit him with another knee. He sent English back in the ring, but Rusev caught him with a big kick as English distracted the ref…[c]
Rusev offered another distraction and English hit a side slam and covered for a near fall. Nakamura caught English coming into a corner, but couldn’t capitalize as English rolled away from a knee. Nakamura hit a single leg dropkick and an Enziguri, followed by Good Vibrations in the corner. He was then successfully able to hit his knee in the corner. He then hit Kinshasa for the win.
Shinsuke Nakamura defeated Aiden English at 9:33.
Immediately after the match, John Cena made his entrance and pointed to the WrestleMania sign with Shinsuke as they passed each other at ringside….[c]
My Take: A win is a win, but I’m not sure why they felt the need to protect English here. Shinsuke needs dominant victories and he gave up a lot of offense here. I know Rusev’s distraction led to most of it, but at this point Shinsuke needs all the dominating performances he can get heading towards WrestleMania.
AJ Styles made his ring entrance. He and Cena had a brief stare down before the match.
4. John Cena vs. AJ Styles: They tied up to start, as Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn were shown backstage. Cena landed an elbow strike and covered for a two count. Cena grabbed a chin lock and AJ fought back to his feet. Cena hit a big shoulder block and covered again for two. Cena followed up with strikes in the corner and then covered again for another two count. He then went back to the chin lock. After AJ escaped, Cena caught him coming into the corner and hit a tornado DDT, but the execution was botched and AJ landed awkwardly on Cena’s hip…[c]
Styles hit an Ushigoroshi and covered for two. Styles set up for a Styles Clash, but Cena catapulted him into the corner instead. Cena then hit a TKO and covered for a near fall. He placed Styles on the top rope and went for a second rope AA, but Styles flipped out of it and hit a Rack Bomb for a near fall. Styles went for another Clash, but Cena avoided it and hit a gutbuster for a near fall. He then followed up with a lariat for another close call. Cena begged AJ to get to his feet, and then charged, but AJ fired back with a quick kick to the back of the head…[c]
AJ hit a Styles Clash during the break, and Cena hit an AA, but neither got the job done. AJ hit a huge lariat and covered for a near fall. AJ Styles missed a Lionsault attempt, and Styles hit a Sunset Flip Bomb for a near fall. Cena then applied an STF, but Styles reversed into a cover for a near fall. Cena charged at Styles in the corner, but AJ missed and Cena hit ribs first. Styles then hit a phenomenal forearm, and Cena kicked out.
AJ setup Cena mid ring and went for a springboard 450, but Cena got the knees up. He then hit an AA, but Cena went for two, and AJ was able to grab the ropes and get to the outside. Cena followed, but ended up plowing into the steps. Both men were laid out, and AJ was the first back in the ring. Styles prevented the ref from counting Cena out, and went out to get him. Cena the hit an AA through the announce table, and Styles barely got into the ring, using a fan to get up.
Cena had a look of disbelief, and sold frustration. Cena picked him up for another AA, but Styles reversed for a calf crusher. Cena rolled through and hit another AA, and got the win.
John Cena defeated AJ Styles at 21:39.
After the match, Owens and Zayn headed toward the ring, but before they could get down there Corbin assaulted Cena from behind. Ziggler wasn’t far behind and hit superkicks to Owens and Zayn. He then took a shot at AJ Styles, but Cena hit him with an AA to close the show.
My Take: I question why this had to be a clean victory. I suppose Styles will get his win back at Fastlane, but there were a million ways they could have protected the champion. Maybe it’s just a different philosophy, but I think Raw does a much better job of providing protection in these situations for its stars. I guess you could say Styles could have allowed the ref to count Cena out, but that’s pretty flimsy in my opinion. At the end of the day, this probably won’t really be on people’s minds come WrestleMania, but this was the least interesting option when building an interesting six man match.
“I guess you could say Styles could have allowed the ref to count Cena out”
This was an example of one of the most annoying WWE tropes: “Babyface shows his heart and valour by being an absolute moron.” For what earthly reason would Styles have told the ref to stop counting here? Another one for the ‘babyfaces are all fools’ highlight reel.