By Jason Powell, Prowrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Smackdown Hits
Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon: A solid opening segment that was even more entertaining if you know that the original “hug it out” storyline was a rib on Bryan because he hates hugging. As such, it was fun to watch him cast in the role of the guy pushing Shane for the big hug at the end. We may never know where the Bryan and Shane saga was headed if Bryan didn’t receive medical clearance (not that I’m complaining), but they did what they could to wrap up their bickering heading into the match. That said, with the stipulation being that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn must win in order to get their jobs back, my guard is slightly up for a possible Shane heel turn. WWE had a lot of success with Bryan battling The Authority in the past and I could see them going down a similar path with Shane. It could also explain why Shane’s involvement is important enough that he’s not skipping the match despite his medical issues.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: The fired duo appearing and delivering a heel promo on the go-home show was a nice touch. I wasn’t sure how Zayn would do as a heel, but he’s been a blast to watch. I continue to get a huge kick out of how animated he is while taunting babyfaces and the fans. He is a tremendous pest heel and may actually be better in this role than he was as the underdog babyface, which is really saying something because he was excellent in that role.
Final push for AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura: A minor Hit. The sit-down interviews were brief yet effective. I did cringe a bit when Nakamura said he uprooted his family and came to WWE for one reason and he mentioned WrestleMania rather than the WWE Championship. In fact, one of the things missing from the build has been Nakamura talking about why he covets the title. Meanwhile, it was hard to be excited about the main event since Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin have been wasted, but obviously this was more about the interactions between Styles and Nakamura. The shot of Styles teasing that he was going to hit Nakamura with his finisher and then patting him on the head was a case of turn about being fair play. The overall build to to the dream match left something to be desired, but at least they managed to create a little tension going into the match.
Charlotte vs. Natalya in a non-title match: A solid match that gave Charlotte her win back following her oddball loss two weeks ago. I assumed this was going to be a quicker win for Charlotte heading into WrestleMania, but I won’t complain about getting a quality match that resulted in Charlotte getting a decisive victory. The Carmella cash-in tease leaves me even more concerned that they are setting the stage for her to cash in at WrestleMania to avoid having a definitive winner between Charlotte and Asuka. The post match appearance by Asuka was a nice touch and they both came off confident heading into the showdown match.
Rusev vs. Jinder Mahal: A crowd pleasing win for Rusev. The addition of Rusev to make the U.S. Championship match a four-way has breathed some life into the match. Rusev is sure to be one of the most popular wrestlers on the roster with the WrestleMania crowd so hopefully they book him well and don’t just have him there to placate the Rusev backers. Does WWE booking history mean that Mahal losing this match mean he’s going to win the U.S. Championship on Sunday or is it a sign that they’ve cooled on him?
WWE Smackdown Missses
Bludgeon Brothers, New Day, and The Usos backstage segment: New Day pushing how fans can watch WWE Network was fine. This became cheesey when New Day and The Usos both scurried when the Bludgeon Brothers showed up and even cheesier when Luke Harper hit the camera with his giant f’n Thor hammer. The match between these three teams looks like a lot of fun on paper, but this was a lousy final push for the match.
Baron Corbin, Mojo Rawley, Dolph Ziggler, and Primo vs. Zack Ryder, Tyler Breeze, Fandango, and Tye Dillinger: A throwaway time filling eight-man tag match designed to promote the Andre the Giant battle royal. They could only find a couple of minutes for that bad segment involving the teams in the Smackdown Tag Title match, yet they had time for this? Fans see the battle royals for what they are – a way to get everyone on the show. And while it can be argued that the only way to make them feel more meaningful is to make them a more relevant part of the build, nothing will change until they go with a winner they intend to position strongly in the year ahead. After all, it’s hard to believe the men’s match can make a young wrestler’s career when Corbin and Rawley are right back in the match after winning the last two.