By Jake Barnett, ProWrestling.net Senior Staffer (@barnettjake)
WWE Smackdown Live on USA Network
Aired live from Charlotte, North Carolina at Spectrum Center
The show began with Shane, Stepanie, Daniel Bryan, and Erick Rowan in the ring. Shane said they were about to do something historic. Stephanie then introduced WWE Champion Daniel Bryan, before Shane started speaking about Kofi Kingston. Kofi chants broke out. Shane then talked about Kofi, and called him an “overnight success” over 10 years. They aired video of his debut, some of his recovery feats at the Royal Rumble, and his numerous career title wins in singles and tag team divisions. Shane said perhaps they have overlooked this individual, but not longer. Stephanie then recounted his performance over the past few weeks, including two pinfalls over WWE Champion Daniel Bryan. Shane McMahon named all those as the reason for Kofi being named the #1 Contender for the WWE Championship at Fastlane, and brought him out to the ring.
Kofi then made his entrance with New Day. They pancaked it up, and there were some Kofi chants during his entrance. Kofi took a lap around the ring to greet all his fans before taking a mic. He said it’s been 11 years, and all he’s wanted in his industry is chance, and now it’s happening. Kofi said it wouldn’t be possible without his brothers in the New Day. He got a you deserve it chant, and said he knows it wouldn’t have been possible without all the social media and public demands from the WWE Universe. Kofi then said at Fastlane, he was going to do what everyone had wanted him to do for his entire career. He would beat Daniel Bryan and become WWE Champion.
Kofi set the mic down and sat down across the table from Bryan. Shane asked Bryan to sign, and he did, but Vince McMahon made his entrance before Kofi could put pen to paper. Shane and Stephanie looked surprised to see him. Vince personally thanked Kofi for his truly remarkable accomplishments over the last 11 years. However, it was his duty to give the fans the biggest box office, and the most qualified contender for the Championship. He then told Kofi he was replacing him, and said the person he was replacing him with was quite frankly more deserving. Woods and Big E were irate. Vince introduced the replacement as Kevin Owens.
Kevin Owens walked down to the ring and signed the contract. Kofi looked dejected, but almost like he knew it was coming. Big E and Woods shouted at Shane and Stephanie to do something about it. New Day eventually left the ring, leaving Bryan, Owens, Rowan, and The McMahons. As they left, Woods and E were furious, and asked if 11 years was truly worth nothing. They said they would make it right. Owens and Bryan stared at each other blankly, and emotionless.
My Take: Given the rumored Owens match at WrestleMania, this seems like a change was made to reverse direction and put Kofi in position for the Big Dance. This also gives New Day some motivation to drop some of the comedy, and show a little fire. It may be a little too close to the same levers they pulled to get where they are going with Becky, but we’ll see how it plays out. It may pay off for both feuds in the end, or it may have a cooling effect on Kingston, just like it has thus far on Lynch. Only time will tell.
Backstage, Kevin Owens told Shane and Stephanie that he knew they had nothing to do with that, but he was happy that their Father respects his value to the industry. They asked him how long he knew, and he said it didn’t really matter now. He asked if he could team with Kofi to face Rowan and Bryan, and they said it would be taken under advisement. Kevin called Kofi just as deserving of a title opportunity as him.
In the ring, Cesaro and Sheamus were already in the ring. The Hardy Boyz then made a surprise reunion for this match, and made their entrance.
1. The Bar vs. The Hardy Boyz: Cesaro and Sheamus started the match, but Matt quickly tagged in. After some back and forth, we got tags from both teams, with Jeff and Sheamus becoming the legal men. The heels got cleared to ringside, and Jeff splashed them on the floor…[c]
The heels beat down Jeff during the break, with Sheamus in control when the show returned. Sheamus tagged and prevented a breakaway tag to Jeff. He then hit a double axe handle over Jeff’s back and covered for two. He then knocked Matt off the apron. Jeff surged back with the whisper in the wind onto both Cesaro and Sheamus, and then made a hot tag to Matt.
Matt hit a side effect and covered Cesaro for two. He then hit an elbow from the middle rope for a near fall. He called for the Twist of Fate, but Sheamus offered a distraction to prevent it. Cesaro shoved Matt into the ropes, and Sheamus hit him with a knee to the face. Cesaro made a tag, but turned around into a Twist of Fate from Jeff. Matt then hit Sheamus with a Twist of Fate, and tagged Jeff for the Swanton and the victory.
The Hardy Boys defeated The Bar at 7:54
After the match, The Hardyz celebrated. The announce team hyped up Nakamura and Rusev vs. Ricochet vs. Aleister Black. Backstage, Lana approached Ricochet and Black. She said they looked like nothing special. They were respected champions or veterans. Ricochet told her that he would enjoy proving her wrong, because Rusev can’t crush what he can’t catch. Black said all she needs to know about him was written on his flesh, and Nakamura and Rusev would fade to black. R-Truth and Carmella then made their entrance in the arena for a US Title open challenge…[c]
My Take: That was really neat for a North Carolina audience that might not get many more opportunities to see Matt and Jeff team together. The match was passable, but nothing out of the ordinary. Lana talking trash to Ricochet and Black was a nice setup for them to talk about themselves, but they still have a lot of work to do. They are still talking in cliches at this point.
The Honky Tonk Man’s video for the Hall of Fame aired. R-Truth asked the crowd if they wanted the truth. He said the truth his ever since he was a little kid, he’s wanted to be like his hero John Cena. He said he would follow in his footsteps by continuing the United States Championship open challenge. They had a dance break, and Truth started the challenge.
Andrade practically ran out to the ring. Rey Mysterio quickly ran down and tackled him from behind and jumped into the ring. Truth grabbed a mic and said he had a dilemma. He said he didn’t know who to face right now. He said in moments like this, he has to ask himself “What would John Cena do”. Carmella said that he would face both opponents. Truth said “Damn, he’s brave.” He eventually accepted.
2. R-Truth vs. Andrade vs. Rey Mysterio: Early on Andrade planted R-Truth with a powerbomb out on the floor. Mysterio tried to slide under the bottom rope and splash R-Truth, but Andrade caught him with a dropkick while he was in the air…[c]
R-Truth had Andrade on his shoulders in an electric chair position, and Rey leapt off the top rope and took him down with a huracanrana. Truth and Mysterio then collided mid ring with a double cross body. Andrade hit double knees on in the corner on Mysterio, but R-Truth avoided it and hit a scissor kick. Truth went through some of Cena’s moves of doom, and hit a Five Knuckle Shuffle for a near fall. He then picked up Andrade for an Attitude adjustment, but Zelina blocked it.
Carmella took Zelina off the apron. Rey then tripped up Andrade for a 619, but he avoided it. Andrade then hit a back elbow for a near fall. After a reversal sequence, both Truth and Andrade were in position for a 619. Andrade took the move, but Truth rolled up Mysterio and got the win with a rollup and retained.
R-Truth defeated Rey and Andrade at 8:33
Rey was strangely all smiles after the pinfall. After the match, Andrade went for a Hammerlock DDT, but Rey avoided it. He attempted another 619, but Andrade escaped. Charlotte is up next…[c]
My Take: A fun match while it lasted. Truth retaining was actually a nice surprise, but I think it sets up a title change for Fastlane, and a potential show stealing match for Andrade and Rey at WrestleMania.
Charlotte made her ring entrance while the events of Raw played out in a video. Charlotte asked if everyone saw what happened earlier tonight when Vince McMahon made the Fastlane main event even better. She said it was almost as important as when he anointed her to save the WrestleMania Main Event against Ronda Rousey. She reiterated what McMahon had said about her, in that she stays in her lane. She does exactly what is asked of her. She mentioned Media, Charity, and Main Events, and called herself the gold standard.
Charlotte called out Ronda and Becky for their antics on Monday, and said they both fear her. She said Becky is afraid she’s going to be exposed as a fraud, and Ronda is afraid of another beating of a lifetime like she got at Survivor Series. She said she fears nothing and no one. Charlotte then introduced a video package of a Ronda promo about what it means to be a Champion back in November. Charlotte said the difference between then is that she’ll never quit, and she’ll never lay down the title, because she’s a true Champion. She said that’s why next Monday on Raw, she’s going to show up so Mr. McMahon can crown her the new Raw Women’s Champion. She then pointed to the WrestleMania sign.
Kofi and KO vs. Bryan and Rowan will be our main event. Aleister Black made his ring entrance, followed by Ricochet…[c]
My Take: A very good promo from Charlotte. She’s still a little monotone, but she’s improving. This feud continues to crawl along a little too slowly for my taste. They’ve already cooled off Becky with these booking shenanigans, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down. Hopefully they get back to the core of what made this interesting in the first place in the coming weeks.
Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev did not get a televised entrance.
3. Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev vs. Ricochet and Aleister Black: Nakamura and Black started, with Nak avoiding a head kick. Black returned the favor a moment later. Ricochet tagged in and hit a dropkick for a two count. Nakamura took a shot to Ricochet’s knee and tagged in Rusev. He bludgeoned Ricochet with heavy strikes, and tagged in Nakamura for some knees. The heel team made some quick tags to focus the offense on Ricochet’s legs and back. Ricochet avoided a Rusev run into the corner, and made a tag to black. Black initially got the better of Nakamura with some strikes, but a Rusev distraction allowed Nakamura to hit a cheapshot that sent him out of the ring…[c]Rusev tormented Black during the break, and continued to wear him down with a Bear Hug as the show returned. Black attempted a comeback, but he was swatted down with a clothesline. Rusev gloated a bit too much, and Black reversed a back suplex attempt into a cross body. Ricochet tagged in and worked over both Nakamura and Rusev. He sent Nak to the floor and hit a flying elbow and a standing shooting star press on Rusev for a near fall.
Rusev caught him going for a cross body and turned it into a Uranage for a near fall. Rusev screamed about rookies, and attempted to apply the Accolade, but Ricochet escaped. Nakamura tagged in, and Ricochet outsmarted them both and sent Rusev to the floor. He tagged black and splashed Rusev on the outside. Nakamura hit a reverse exploder on Black. He went for a Kinshasa, but Black hit Black Mass instead for the win.
Ricochet and Aleister Black defeated Rusev and Nakamura at 11:21
After the match, Kayla Braxton interviewed AJ Styles backstage. Before Kayla could say anything, AJ said he was happy that Roman Reigns was in remission. She asked AJ if he was in a slump for the first time in his career. AJ said he sets the standards for himself, and recently he hasn’t been at his best. He said he had his opportunity and failed, so he’s responsible for the rise of Daniel Bryan, but that doesn’t he going to stop trying. AJ then said he’s going to pick himself up, dust himself off, and rise up to the next challenger. He called Smackdown the House that AJ Styles built, and that brought Randy Orton into frame. He said “The House that AJ what?”
Lacey Evans made a lap out to the ring and back…[c]
My Take: I enjoyed that match, despite feeling pretty confident about the outcome. Those four work well together, and both Nakamura and Rusev deserve bigger opportunities. Unfortunately for them, the competition for the attention of creative is getting more intense all the time.
We got a very nice video package of Roman’s Reigns remission announcement from Raw, as well as his appearance on GMA the following morning. Kofi Kingston made his entrance with the rest of the New Day…[c]
Entrances took place during the break.
4. Kofi Kingston and Kevin Owens vs. Erick Rowan and Daniel Bryan: Kofi started for his team. Bryan was going to start, but instead tagged out to Rowan. Kofi hit some strikes on Rowan, but they had no effect. Owens tagged in to give it a shot, but was also turned away with a big shoulder tackle. Owens avoided a corner splash and hit the ropes. Rowan then surprised him with a dropkick. Bryan then tagged in, but Kofi quickly took him down with a kick to the jaw. He then sent Bryan out to the floor and tagged Owens, who hit Bryan with a splash on the outside…[c]
Rowan controlled the action and used his power moves to punish Kofi Kingston. He hit a pump handle back breaker for a two count. Bryan tagged in and stood on Kofi’s neck. He also has a goose egg forming on is forehead. Bryan targeted Kofi’s back, and sent him out to the floor. He tagged Rowan, who went and grabbed Kofi and body slammed him on the outside. Rowan then hit a running splash in the ring for a near fall.
Rowan setup for a powerbomb, but instead slammed him chest first into the top turnbuckle. Bryan then tagged in and placed Kofi on the top rope for a superplex, and executed for a near fall. He covered again and got the same result. Kofi chants started up as Bryan applied an arm twist and hit a headbutt. Kofi punched his way out and rolled Bryan up, but Bryan reversed into a Lebell Lock. Kofi struggled and got his foot on the ropes. Bryan delivered kicks in the corner, and then several running dropkicks. Bryan ate a double stomp coming in for one too many.
Kofi dragged himself towards the corner and Owens tagged himself in. Owens hit some chops and strikes, and a back body drop. Owens then climbed to the top rope and hit a single leg dropkick. He then took a shot at Rowan and hit a running senton. Bryan went to the corner, and Owens hit a cannonball. After some back and forth with Rowan, Owens hit a superkick and sent him out to the floor. He then hit a Pop Up Powerbomb on Bryan, but only got a two count. Owens then went up top, but Rowan pulled him down and threw him over the announce table.
Kofi took out Rowan with a trust fall from the top rope to the floor. Bryan dragged Owens back into the ring and went for a running knee, but Owens avoided it. He then hit a Stunner on Bryan and got the win.
Kofi Kingston and Kevin Owens defeated Daniel Bryan and Erick Rowan at 14:33
Kofi and Owens were in the ring together, barely tolerating each other in victory to close the show.
My Take: It sure don’t mean much to pin Bryan at this point. The problem with building challengers at the expense of the Champion is that the eventual big moment means even less. Bryan has to manage to get some heat back in the build towards WrestleMania, and he has to stop taking clean pinfall losses now. Otherwise, this was another match that was good but not great. Overall, this was a worthy follow up to a much improved Monday Night Raw. Here’s hoping the continue to ratchet up the intensity and pace of these shows heading into WrestleMania.