By Jake Barnett, ProWrestling.net Co-Senior Staffer (@barnettjake)
WWE Smackdown Live on USA Network
Aired live from Louisville, Kentucky at KFC Yum Center
Tom Phillips, Corey Graves, and Byron Saxton welcomed everyone to the show. AJ Styles made his entrance to open the show, as the announce team played up the new wildcard rules. AJ grabbed a mic and soaked in a positive crowd reaction. He then said he had missed Smackdown Live. AJ recapped Vince’s creation of the wildcard rule, and said if you’re brave enough and fast enough, you can cross over to a rival brand. AJ clarified you can be one of 4 Superstars (Not 3 anymore, apparently) to crash the other show, and said that Smackdown is the house that AJ Styles built.
Sami Zayn escaped his dumpster and interrupted Styles. He called the crowd Kentucky Fried Hillbillies and said he couldn’t allow AJ Styles toxic ego take over the show. AJ said he smelled like a foot, and congratulated him on escaping the dumpster. Zayn accused him of misdirection, but he was quickly interrupted by New Day members Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods. They said they couldn’t have a party out in the ring without inviting their boys The New Day. Kofi mocked AJ with his white guy voice for calling Smackdown the house that he built, and said he didn’t live there anymore.
Kofi asked him what he was doing there, and AJ responded that he saw Kofi on Raw and wanted to return the favor. Woods told Styles to check himself before he wrecks himself. Kofi said he was the champ, and this was his ring now, and asked AJ what he wanted to do about it. Sami told them to stop and said he knew where he was going. He scoffed at Kofi offering Styles a WWE Championship match, and told him the crowd wasn’t happy for him. Sami then claimed he had been hooked by the fans affection, and now he was making mistakes by offering peopel title matches they didn’t deserve.
He said if anyone deserved a title shot, it was him, because he was willing to tell people the truth even when they didn’t want to hear it. Kofi and Woods told him that he smelled like a sock drawer. Kofi said he proved against Daniel Bryan that his title win was not a fluke, and he was a fighting Champion, and he would defend his Championship against either of them later tonight. He claimed that the outcome would be the same no matter who he faced, and that he would remain the WWE Champion. Shane McMahon Tag Title announcement was plugged for later.
A backstage promo was shown for Kevin Owens. He said today was his birthday, and he realized he wasn’t kicking off the show like planned because he didn’t want to deal with this crap today. He said Kofi was lucky tonight, but his luck would end when he takes the WWE Championship at Money in the Bank.
In the arena, Ali made his entrance…[c]
My Take: I guess we’re just going to get a bunch of title defenses now. I’m not against it, per se, but I question the wisdom of burning through so many potential matchups. Part of the appeal of the brand split is that it can keep certain wrestlers apart and matchups can be saved and made to feel special over the long term. That kind of evaporates with the wildcard rule.
Kofi will face AJ Styles and Sami Zayn later on in the show. A pre-taped promo aired for Ali, who was out on the streets. He look at a street light, and said that the light always shows him the way. He compared to the Money in the Bank briefcase, and called it the light that would be hanging above the ring. Ali said at Money in the Bank, he would be searching for the light, and it long as he could see it, he would continue to fight.
Andrade then made his entrance onto the stage. Zelina said much like the Kentucky Derby, thousands of fans would gather to watch the Money in the Bank PPV. But unlike the Kentucky Derby, there was only one thoroughbred in the race, and he’s with him. Andrade grabbed the mic and said he would become Mr. Money in the Bank, and Ali would become envious of his success.
1. Ali vs. Andrade: The match began with Andrade landing a big chop to the chest. Ali got fired up and kicked Andrade to the floor. He gave chase and mounted the barricade to jump on Andrade, but Zelina Vega jumped in front of him. The distraction allowed Andrade to knock Ali into the timekeeper’s area…[c]
Andrade controlled the action during the break. He then hit a bodyslam and climbed to the top. Ali hit a punch to interrupt him. He then hit a spanish fly, but the match was interrupted by Randy Orton. Andrade and Ali both hit big kicks on Randy Orton, but he just looked more pissed off.
The match ended in a No Contest at 7:22
Ali got a few more shots in on Orton, but ended up getting hit with a pop up RKO. Andrade jumped at Orton with a flying nothing, and ate an RKO as well. After leaving both mean in a heap, Orton walked up the stage with a smirk. The announce team threw to some footage of Raw from last night, with Elias and Shane McMahon getting one over on Roman. They said Roman has always been a guy that has fought against authority, and introduced a video package that chronicled some of his career highlights, and his recent cancer battle.
After the video, Shane McMahon made his entrance…[c]
My Take: Orton getting another one over on Ali and Andrade was a crowd pleaser. Hopefully they give them both a chance to shine next week before we get to Money in the Bank. I’m not a fan of Andrade going out there and struggling mightily through promos. There’s no need to put him in a sink or swim situation when you have Zelina out there, who is already a very effective mouthpiece. Ali’s pre-tape felt was shot in an interesting way, but the content of the promo felt a bit like faux philosophy. Roman’s video package was very well done, but it doesn’t feel like they are doing much to shake up the formula.
Video was shown of Shane McMahon fleeing from The Miz last night, and eventually escaping after hitting a low blow. Their Steel Cage match was plugged by the announce team. Shane said he was out there to talk about the Smackdown Tag Team Division. But first, he addressed the Miz, and took exception to the fact that Miz hit him with the Steel Chair. He called him deplorable, and disgusting. He said Miz couldn’t get the job done last night, and he won’t get it done at Money in the Bank, because he would one again emerge victorious. Shane then turned his attention to the Smackdown Tag Team Championships, and mentioned The Hardyz vacating the titles last week after Jeff was injured by Lars Sullivan. He asked himself who would be worthy of the Smackdown Tag Team Champions, and Daniel Bryan and Rowan made their entrance.
The Usos then interrupted and said woah, wait a minute. Shane asked them why they were there, and they said Roman Reigns told them they could slide into his yard anytime they wanted. They disputed Shane just handing over the titles, and said they had to earn it. They said New Day, The Bar, The Usos, and even Shane had earned those titles. They told Shane not to just give the titles to SpongeBob and Patrick, Ren and Stimpy, or Beavis and Butthead. They wanted a match, so they could have one more chance to lock down the Uso Penitentiary. Shane made the match, and asked a ref to come down…[c]
My Take: It’s hard to think of a readily available opponent for Daniel Bryan in the singles division, so maybe a trip through the tag division will make some sense for he and Rowan while he waits for the right feud to emerge as a singles act. The Usos promo had some good humor in it, but it came across as a bit too cute at points. We’ll see what happens.
Finn Balor did a pre-tape from Ireland, and said he would do something extraordinary at Money in the Bank and become Finn 2 Belts. He came across as a bit of a nerd.
2. Daniel Bryan and Rowan vs. The Usos: The announcers brought up Ucey Hot, and my eyes rolled into the back of my head. The Usos dominated the early going, controlling Daniel Bryan in their corner. He escaped and made a tag to Rowan, and then rolled out to the floor. Rowan absorbed some chops and hit a big boot on Jimmy. He then hit a running splash for a near fall. Rowan and Bryan then returned the favor and isolated Jimmy in their corner. Bryan tagged back in and he and Rowan tossed him into the corner for a bit of a slingshot dropkick. Rowan then tagged back in and hit Jey off the apron, and hit a big body block on Jimmy that floored him…[c]
Bryan hit a low dropkick Jey Uso, and then hit his yes kicks. He missed the last one, and Jimmy tagged in and leveled Bryan with a superkick. He then climbed up top for a splash, but Bryan got the knees up and turned it into a Lebell Lock. Jimmy nearly reached the ropes, but Bryan flipped him over. He eventually reversed into a pinning combo for a near fall, and then hit a superkick. Jey and Rowan tagged in, and the Usos hit several superkicks and a double superkick. Jey took out Bryan on the floor, and Jimmy hit a splash in the ring for a good near fall.
Jey tagged in and they set up for a Double Uce, but Bryan knocked Jey off the ring post. Jimmy sent both Bryan and Rowan to the outside. Both Usos splashed Rowan, but he caught them. Bryan hit a running knee on Jey, and Rowan threw Jimmy into the barricade. Jimmy hit another couple of superkicks, but Rowan recovered and hit the Iron Claw and got the win.
Bryan and Rowan defeated The Usos at 15:21
After the match, Shane presented Bryan and Rowan with the Tag Team Championships. The Triple Threat WWE Title match was plugged for later. Carmella and Ember will face Sonya and Mandy later as well. Shane will apparently be hanging around because he has something to say about the Money in the Bank Ladder matches. We then got a repeat of the Firefly FunHouse video from last night.
My Take: A very entertaining Tag Match, and one that showed Bryan and Rowan work well together. It’ll be interesting to see if they have enough chemistry to carry other Smackdown Tag Teams that don’t have the same reputation with the crowd as The Usos. Shane McMahon’s announcement has me wondering if they are going to allow the winners of Money in the Bank to challenge for either brand’s championships due to the Wild Card rule.
Shane told the crowd to pipe down, as he wanted to leave Louisville as soon as possible. He said he had to get out some information. Shane said any superstar that can grab the ladder is almost guaranteed a WWE Championship. Before Shane could finish his statement, The Miz jumped him from behind. Shane bailed to the stage after being bounced off the barricade, and the B-Team gave him an assist. As Miz took care of the B-Team, Shane smashed him from behind with a chair. Miz was laid out and Shane walked to the back.
Backstage, Bryan and Rowan celebrated and called themselves the Planet’s Champions. They said they had to do something about those titles. Heavy Machinery walked up and gave them a congratulations. In the arena, Ember Moon made her entrance…[c]
My Take: The Miz interruption was expected, but it worked. Shane having low level lackey’s works for me, as it makes sense for his character. It’s also an effective way to have him not physically dominate other wrestlers that he really shouldn’t. Bryan and Rowan debuting updated Hemp Tag Titles should be fun.
3. Carmella and Ember Moon vs. Sonya and Mandy: The match spilled outside quickly and sent Carmella into the steps. They then sent Ember Moon into the barricade and slammed her into the apron. In the ring, Mandy hit her double underhook facebuster finisher and covered for the win.
Sonya and Mandy defeated Carmella and Ember Moon at 2:01
After the match, Paige walked out with Kairi and Asuka. She said she used to manage them when they were relevant, but her new team would be ripping through the tag division starting next week.
Backstage, Matt Hardy was interviewed by Kayla Braxton. He said Jeff had successful surgery, but he was quickly interrupted by R-Truth. Truth spoke about Lars Sullivan’s arms being like bear traps, and if he gets a hold of you, you get got. Lars interrupted and destroyed both of them. It was a poorly acted segment.
My Take: A whole lot of meh in this segment. Ember and Bayley got discarded by Mandy and Sonya, so they can apparently get fed to Asuka and Kairi next week. This could have been an enhancement match..
Aleister Black was in a dark room. He called out to people who have struggled for acceptance. He said he sits before them as their wrath and salvation. He then apologized to his opponents for his need to prevail, and they are the embodiment of the sins of those who have wronged him. Black then said he would ask for absolution for his own sins by seeking victory at their expense.
In the arena, AJ Styles made his entrance, followed by Sami Zayn and Kofi Kingston….[c]
We got official ring announcements for the main event.
4. Kofi Kingston vs. AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn: AJ jumped on Kofi with a kick to the face. He then sent Sami out to the floor with a kick as well. Kofi fired back with a kick of his own and covered for a two count. Sami tried to re-enter the match, but Kofi quickly sent him back outside. Styles hit a big back breaker on Kofi, and then once again sent Sami outside. Kofi hit a splash on the back of Styles. Styles was out of position and brought AJ’s weight down on one of his knees. Sami entered the match this time and took down both Styles and Kofi from the apron…[c]
Sami controlled the action in the ring and hit a great superplex on Kingston for a near fall. AJ Styles got back into the match, and placed Zayn on the top and hit a top rope huracanrana. AJ then hit an ushigoroshi on Kingston. All three guys linked up as Kofi hit an SOS on Styles, who was holding Zayn in position for a DDT. Kofi crawled to his feed and sold his back. Styles sold his knee from earlier in the match. Both men traded punches and were wobbly on their feet. Styles hit a pele kick and both men were down.
Styles got to his feet and ran at Kofi in the corner, and setup for a phenomenal forearm by getting sent out to the apron. Kofi hit Trouble in Paradise and sent AJ to the floor. Kevin Owens ran down and assaulted Xavier Woods on the floor and took him out by sending him into the apron and the steps. Sami hit a blue thunder bomb twice, and both times got a near fall. He then hit a third, and Kofi still kicked out and 2.9.
Sami sold frustration and charged at Kofi in the corner, but he popped out with Trouble in Paradise and got the win.
Kofi Kingston defeated Sami Zayn and AJ Styles at 17:32
Kofi checked on Xavier on the outside and asked where Kevin Owens came from. Woods said he didn’t know. Kevin Owens had left after Kofi kicked out of a third Blue Thunder Bomb. At ringside, Kayla Braxton asked Kofi if Kevin Owens was in his head. He said at Money in the Bank, there would be hell to pay for Kevin Owens.
My Take: That was a good title match, but I’m left puzzled by Kevin Owens not assaulting Kofi when he had the chance. Did he really want Sami Zayn to win the WWE Championship? If so, they didn’t give us any reason to think he would. The last time they both had shots at the WWE Championship, they killed each other over it. That said, this show moved along at a good pace, and without the third hour, generally doesn’t overstay its welcome. The additional star power is welcome in the short term, but the effects of hotshotting generally play out over the long term.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Vice TV's "Dark Side of the Ring" executive producers Evan Husney and Jason Eisner discussing the March 24 second season premiere focusing on the Benoit family tragedy, plus their pro wrestling fandom, the show's name and origins, highlights of season two, Chris Jericho becoming the narrator, and much more...