By Jake Barnett, ProWrestling.net Senior Staffer (@barnettjake)
WWE Smackdown Live on USA Network
Aired live from Wichita, Kansas at Intrust Bank Arena
Tom Phillips, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton were on commentary as Becky Lynch made her entrance to start the show. The announce team billed her encounter with Asuka as their first One on One Encounter. Rey Mysterio vs. Almas in a 2 out of 3 Falls match was plugged, as well as Daniel Bryan and AJ Styles in a face to face moderated by Vince McMahon. The crowd went mental for Becky as she grabbed a microphone.
Becky said it was good to be back in town. She said it wasn’t that long ago that nobody was paying attention to her, but now there’s only one place she’s going, and that’s the Main Event of WrestleMania. Becky said she would slap anyone that got in her way of getting there. She then turned her attention to Asuka, and said she steamrolled her way to the top once, but she never beat her for the Championship. She called herself better than Asuka, and said she had already dethroned the queen, and she would break the Empress on her way….and Asuka interrupted her.
Asuka made her entrance and dangled the title in Becky’s face. She spoke off mic in Japanese, but the shit talk was obvious in the face of loud Becky chants. Charlotte then made her way out in street clothes. She said as much as she’s enjoying this, there’s nothing that’s going to be more exciting than her throwing 29 women over the top to win the Royal Rumble. Charlotte spoke about how she’s beaten Sasha, Ronda, Asuka and Becky before, and she’d have her choice of which one to beat again at WrestleMania. Loud Becky chants rained down. She called herself the Main Event, and then Asuka jumped Becky from behind. They brawled in and out of the ring with agents and refs pulling them apart.
Asuka launched Becky into the ring barricade, but she got to her feet and sent Asuka over the announce desk. Becky then took her leather jacket off and whipped Asuka with it. She then stood on the announce table and leapt off onto Asuka on the floor before being pulled away by referees. Naomi and Mandy Rose is up next. Asuka spoke in Japanese and looked ready to extract revenge as the segment ended.
My Take: A great opening segment. The crowd was very hot for Becky, and it elevated everything else. If this had happened in front of a more muted crowd, it might not have worked nearly as well. People were excited for the Becky and Asuka stuff much more than Charlotte’s interruption. She’s a major player in the Rumble match, and likely will factor heavily into the rumored WrestleMania Main Event, but in my estimation she was a third wheel in this segment.
Backstage, Asuka and Becky continued to brawl, and had to be separated once again. They announce team then threw to a video package that recapped Mandy and Naomi’s love triangle drama. It was narrated by a female voice I didn’t recognize. It was actually a nice production touch, and might also help anybody in the crowd who might not have been following along closely to recent TV get more involved in the match. Naomi and Mandy made their entrances. Mandy was accompanied by Sonya Deville. Naomi jumped out of the ring during Mandy’s entrance and jumped her on the path to the ring.
1. Naomi vs. Mandy Rose: The match began as Naomi threw Mandy in the ring. Naomi gave her a backhand and Mandy bailed to the floor to collect herself…[c]
Action was back and forth during the break. Sonya offered a distraction that allowed Mandy to take control. There was a botched facebuster that saw Mandy and Naomi knock heads, but they seemed to both be ok. Naomi turned things around with a boot in the corner and a series of punches. She then hit a flying head scissors. She then went out on the apron for a springboard, but Sonya was enough of a distraction that Mandy threw her into the ring post. Mandy pulled Naomi into the ring and got the pin.
Mandy defeated Naomi at 6:31
After the match, Jimmy Uso tried to console Naomi, but she said she was fine. She wasn’t. Backstage, Rey Mysterio talked about his Royal Rumble strategy. He spoke about his previous Rumble victory was all about his training and speed. He was able to stay away from larger opponents, and had the endurance to go the distance. Rey then said tonight wasn’t about training, it was about respect, and he would teach Andrade respect by beating him in the ring. The Miz and Shane are up next…[c]
My Take: Not a lot of excitement in the Mandy and Naomi match. I don’t think the crowds are heavily invested in the story yet, and the campy nature of it might have something to do with it. The match was passable but both women have looked better. Rey has never been a strong promo, but his delivery seemed much more calm and measured tonight and that was a good look for him.
The Miz and Shane made their entrance, followed by The Bar. Footage of last week’s Birthday celebration was shown as well.
2. The Miz vs. Cesaro: It was all Cesaro to start. He hit about 20 Euro Uppercuts, and then a suplex. Miz tried to hit the ropes, but Cesaro caught him with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. Miz got back into the match with a Figure Four, but Sheamus helped Cesaro reach the ropes. Miz went through the ropes and cracked Sheamus, but Cesaro leveled him with another uppercut. Shane walked over and evened the odds, and they had a staredown…[c]
Miz lit up Cesaro with kicks, and then hit a running dropkick in the corner, and then a clothesline. Miz then went up top, but he jumped into an uppercut. Cesaro made a cover, but Shane broke it up without the ref seeing it. Sheamus then ran over and sent Shane into the barricade. In the ring, Sheamus offered a distraction so Cesaro could hit the Gotch Neutralizer and pick up the win.
Cesaro defeated The Miz at 8:54
After the match, Shane shoved Sheamus into the barricade, and then sent Cesaro into the ring post. He set Cesaro on top of the announce desk, and then went up to the top rope, but Sheamus shoved him down to the floor. Sheamus then hit a Brogue Kick on Shane. They then set the Miz on the announce desk, and put Shane through him with a Double Powerbomb.
The Bar celebrated to end the segment. The announce team spoke to about Samoa Joe and Mustafa Ali going one on one. For the majority of it, Tom Phillips was looking at the wrong camera. Oops. The aired a video package that highlighted Mustafa Ali and Samoa Joe. Ali spoke about his history of being a beat cop and how that helped him understand people. He said he can tell all he needs to know just by looking into their eyes. He said he can tell Joe doesn’t think he belongs in the same ring with him, but he can look Joe in the eyes and say that he’s confident that he can beat him. Vince McMahon was then shown backstage looking at Shane McMahon on the monitor being tended to out at ringside…[c]
My Take: Another match that wasn’t much of a technical showcase, but the angle afterwards moved this story forward nicely. Shane and Miz can now be called heavy underdogs, and that should get them the reaction they want at the Royal Rumble show. The video package for Joe and Ali was very well done. They are doing a nice job giving feuds some personality and gravity tonight. Every segment on the show has been given some importance as a result.
Vince made his way to the ring. He said he would reserve comment about what had just happened to Shane. He said Royal Rumble would bring together two of the most passionate and competitive WWE Superstars of all time. He said they would compete on Sunday, but would go face to face tonight. He then introduced AJ Styles first, followed by WWE Champion Daniel Bryan.
Bryan refused to enter the ring. He said he refused to step into the ring with a sociopath. He said he was talking about the guy who slammed him into some processed animal carcasses last week. He accused AJ of getting people fat on hot dogs so they can be walking billboards for his merchandise. He accused AJ of using his fame and power to obtain fame and wealth, and he uses his power for the greater good.
AJ asked if him coming out and talking like a jackass is for the greater good. Bryan said people like AJ because he makes them laugh, but he never makes them think. He called AJ impotent and ignorant. He said AJ is comfortable with allowing the crowd to waste their lives away, and that’s why he can’t let him take the WWE Championship from him. Bryan said he tells the people what they should be ashamed of, because he’s not the people’s champion, he’s the Planet’s Champion. He then said the planet doesn’t need AJ as Champion, it needs him.
AJ said Bryan didn’t pedal his bike to the arena, he took a plane like everyone else. And there’s a word for that. Fickle. The crowd heckled Bryan and he told them to shut up. AJ called out Bryan for being afraid to get in the ring, because he knows AJ can take the only thing that matters to him anytime he wants to. He said once AJ has his Championship, he’ll have nothing left. Vince eventually demanded Bryan get in the ring.
Bryan then went on a rant at Vince, accusing him and the baby boomer generation of being the parasites of the planet, taking everything and giving nothing back, while prioritizing profits over the planet. He said Vince reaps the profits and the power while the people are lulled into complacency by social media, and they bow to him for it. Bryan accused him of creating the environment that lets ignorance and impotence like AJ Styles become a hero. Vince the shouted at Bryan to get in the ring. AJ said if Bryan wouldn’t get in the ring, he would come to thim.
AJ gave chase, and tossed Bryan in the steps. Bryan got into the ring, and as AJ was ready to deliver a phenomenal forearm, Bryan pulled Vince in front of him. He then hit AJ with a Busaiku Knee. Bryan then escaped towards the stage with a smile. Backstage, R-Truth and Carmella spoke about their #30 spots and who they would challenge. Truth made a joke about Brock Lesnar taking him to Sioux Falls City. Charlotte approached Carmella, and they traded trash talk. Carmella said the Royal Rumble was a tornado, and she was the #30 Gatekeeper in Gucci. Charlotte said that she was the tornado, and she’d make everyone bow to the queen. Samoa Joe made his entrance in the arena…[c]
My Take: Vince played less of a part in that segment than I expected. Bryan playing the annoying environmental liberal and AJ playing the Americana babyface would not be what I would have drawn up for these two a year ago, but it’s led to some interesting promos. I wonder if Bryan going after Vince and baby boomers will have legs, or if this one is simply a way to heat up this match.
3. Samoa Joe vs. Mustafa Ali: Joe started the match in control. The action spilled out to the floor, and Joe tried to run Ali into the post again, but he avoided it this time and hit Joe with a diving body block. Ali tried for a springboard, but Joe shoved Ali and he hit the apron face first and spilled out to the floor…[c]
Joe remained in control as match continued, wearing down Ali with holds and strikes in the corner. Ali had a few moments of hope, but Joe was able to quickly regain control. Ali hit a facebuster that put both men down. Ali got to his feet first and hit a dropkick that sent Joe to the floor. He then hit Joe with a dive on the outside. Ali then followed Joe around the ring and hit a splash off the apron. Back in the ring, Ali hit a tornado DDT for a near fall. He then went for an 054, but Joe grabbed him off the ropes and into the Coquina Clutch for the win.
Samoa Joe defeated Mustafa Ali at 8:11
After the match, Andrade was shown backstage preparing for his match. Zelina Vega is banned from ringside…[c]
My Take: That was an entertaining match. This feud could have legs if they simply have Ali eliminate Joe on Sunday. I know there are many that would love to see Joe win the Rumble, but I just don’t think the stars aligned for him this year after already having that long feud with AJ.
The announce team ran down the Rumble Card prior to the main event. Backstage, New Day watched video from past Royal Rumbles. Kayla Braxton asked if they are willing to eliminate each other from the Rumble. Woods said they get asked that every year. Who will ask next, Tony Chimel? Chimel appeared from off screen and asked, and Big E told him he needed to go because Edge wasn’t there. Big E said they would dog walk everybody at the Rumble, and if one of them wins, they all win. Kofi got somber and pondered what would happen if he couldn’t figure out a new way to keep his feet from the ground. Big E and Woods told Kofi to keep his head up, and he then said he had an idea. He then told Kayla they would have to wait until Sunday.
Andrade and Rey made their entrances in the arena.
4. Andrade vs. Rey Mysterio is a 2 out of 3 Falls Match: Rey dumped Andrade to the floor early, and then hit a flying head scissors from the top rope to the floor…[c]
My Take: New Day cut a promo to hype Kofi’s yearly Royal Rumble stunt. Hopefully it lives up to the promise of a surprise.
Rey went for a springboard, but Andrade caught him with a midair dropkick for a near fall. Rey hit a Canadian Destroyer a moment later for a near fall of his own. Rey climbed to the second rope and went for a Code Red, but Almas pulled him into a pinning predicament for a near fall. They both fought their way into the corner, and Andrade pulled Rey into a top rope sit out powerbomb for the first fall.
Andrade captured the first fall at 7:42
Rey barely got to his feet before Andrade hit another sit out Powerbomb, but this time it was a near fall. Andrade went for a third powerbomb, but Rey reversed into another Canadian Destroyer for the second fall…[c]
Rey Mysterio scored the second fall at 9:32
Rey ducked in the corner and Andrade spilled out to the floor. He then went for his slide underneath the ropes, but Andrade caught him initially. Rey then surged when they hit the floor and rammed Andrade into the barricade. Rey got back in the ring, and then hit the slide under ropes into a sunset flip into the barricade. Rey then hit the West Coast Pop coming back into the ring for another near fall.
The crowd called for a 619, but Andrade had other plans. He pulled Rey over the rope rope into an arm bar, and Rey heavily sold it. He then tossed the same arm into the turnbuckle shoulder first. Rey avoided a second throw and hit a kick. He went for a sunset powerbomb out to the floor, but Andrade flipped out of it. Andrade then picked Rey up and tossed him into the ring post spine first. He then hit a hammerlock DDT, but Rey was able to get a foot on the ropes.
Andrade applied a Fujiwara Armbar. Rey struggled to escape, and eventually vaulted onto the top rope. They had a bit of a botch on what I think was supposed to be a crucifix bomb. Rey hit a poisoned huracanrana a moment later for a near fall. He then hit a springboard head scissors and a 619. As he set up for a splash, he got pulled down by Samoa Joe and powerbombed into the apron.
The match ended in no contest at 21:48
Joe choked out Rey with a Coquina Clutch. He then grabbed a microphone and said that’s exactly what he would do to the other 29 Superstars in the Royal Rumble, because his name is…..RKO outta nowhere from Randy Orton. Orton celebrated to end the show.
My Take: That match was on its way to being another classic before the interruption. I understand the decision to leave it inconclusive, even if it was a bit disappointing. Seeing Rey Mysterio perform at this level at this stage of his career is tremendous. He’s been one of the MVP’s of Smackdown since his return, and he’s really turned on the gas since he’s gotten an opportunity to feud with Andrade. My hat goes off to him, because just a few short years ago people wondered if he could ever compete regularly with the state his knees and back were in, and here he is hanging with guys in their athletic prime. Andrade continues to be a bright spot, and it’s heartening to see him get the greenlight with Rey to show off what they can do. This was a much better show than Monday’s Raw, which is improving but still a bit dull for my tastes. This show didn’t feel like it had any filler tonight, and even the segments that weren’t hitting on all cylinders were still entertaining.