By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Friday Night Smackdown (Episode 1,231)
Las Vegas, Nevada at MGM Grand Garden Arena
Aired live March 24, 2023 on Fox
[Hour One] Smackdown opened with a recap of last week’s Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn reunion along with footage from their brawl with Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso on Monday’s Raw… The Smackdown opening aired…
Michael Cole welcomed viewers to the penultimate edition of Smackdown before WrestleMania 39. He was joined on commentary by Wade Barrett, and Samantha Irvin was the ring announcer…
1. Cody Rhodes vs. Ludwig Kaiser (w/Giovanni Vinci). Cody’s entrance was televised while Kaiser was already in the ring. Paul Heyman walked onto the stage about a minute into the match heading into the first commercial break. [C]
An ad for Raw added a Miz TV segment with Becky Lynch, Trish Stratus, and Lita as the guests.
Cody went for a springboard move, but Kaiser cut him off on the ropes and went on the offensive. A “Cody” chant broke out. Vinci hit Cody with a cheap shot from the floor while the referee was tied up with Kaiser. Cody eventually started to rally and set up for CrossRhodes.
Cody released Kaiser when he spotted Solo Sikoa walk out and join Heyman on the stage. Kaiser took a distracted Rhodes to ringside and ran him into the ring steps while Heyman and Sikoa walked closer to the ring. [C]
Cody set up for CrossRhodes, but Kaiser escaped and rolled him up for a two count. Cody came right back with the Cody Cutter and then played to the crowd. Cody hit CrossRhodes and then covered Kaiser for the three count…
Cody Rhodes defeated Ludwig Kaiser in 16:35.
After the match, Heyman and Sikoa climbed onto the apron. Heyman motioned for Sikoa to stay put and then told Cody that he’s owed an apology. Heyman entered the ring and said the ring announcer did a lousy job of the announcement. “I think she’s from Las Vegas,” Heyman said for easy heat.
Heyman delivered his own announcement for Cody winning his match and then added that it was the very same Cody who saw a giant pothole in front of him. Heyman explained that Rhodes will face Sikoa on Monday’s Raw. Heyman said that if Rhodes survives the match, then all roads lead to Roman Reigns.
Heyman announced that Reigns would appear on next week’s Smackdown to see Rhodes one more time. Heyman tossed the mic to Cody, who asked if Heyman was moving the goal posts for him. Cody assumed he was supposed to decline the match, but he beat Seth Rollins “with half my body hanging off.”
Cody once again stated that Sikoa isn’t ready, which led to the crowd chanting, “You’re not ready.” Cody said that after Sikoa finds out he’s not ready, Reigns will find out at WrestleMania that he’s not ready either…
Cole announced that Austin Theory vs. John Cena for the U.S. Championship will be the opening match on WrestleMania Saturday. Cole played it up as Cena kicking off WrestleMania weekend…
Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair was shown walking backstage. Cole said she would appear live after the break… [C]
Powell’s POV: A longer than anticipated match between Cody and Kaiser, but the presence of Heyman and Sikoa created a logical need for the match to go as long as it did. I like the approach of Cody being the fighting challenger who is having competitive matches and isn’t backing down from Sikoa just days away from the WrestleMania main event. I also like the hook of announcing that Cena will open the WrestleMania Saturday show.
Smackdown Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair made her entrance for an in-ring promo. Flair said three things have been used against her since she started in the business – fear, insecurities, and nepotism. Flair said fear is a lack of understanding and is ignorance.
Flair said the industry wasn’t built on fear, it was built on respect. Flair she doesn’t fear Ripley, she respects her. Flair said the only thing she fears is her own potential. She said ran through a list of people she’s worked with, including The Bella Twins and Becky Lynch, and said she respected all of them.
Flair called out the crowd for giving her the “What?” treatment and said it was time for them to listen. Flair brought up nepotism claims that are used against her. She said she loves her father and will never apologize for continuing the greatest legacy in sports entertainment. “Diamonds are forever and so is Charlotte Flair,” she concluded…
Powell’s POV: A well delivered promo and it was fun to hear Charlotte work in some of her father’s signature lines at the end, but I can’t say that this moved me in any way regarding her match with Rhea Ripley. It felt like a filler promo that would be delivered at a time when the creative forces haven’t come up with an opponent for Flair, not a two weeks before a title match at WrestleMania promo. For whatever reason, it feels like Flair and Ripley are struggling to come up with meaningful things to say about their rivalry.
Cole hyped The KO Show with Sami Zayn as the guest. Owens and Zayn were shown having a light backstage chat while Owens spun around in an office chair…
Rey Mysterio made his entrance for his match against LA Knight. Rey’s wife Angie was shown smiling in the crowd… [C] Las Vegas imagery was shown… Magician and comedian Piff The Magic Dragon was shown in the crowd… LA Knight made his entrance…
2. Rey Mysterio vs. LA Knight. Knight took offensive control early and put Rey down with a neckbreaker. Knight played to the crowd before covering Rey, who kicked out at one. Rey eventually took offensive control and went to the ropes, but he was distracted by Dominik Mysterio making his entrance. [C]
Late in the match, Rey got Knight in position for the 619. Rey ran the ropes and was tripped by Dom. Rey stood up and looked down at his son. Knight recovered and then rolled up Rey and got the pin. Barrett said Knight beat a WWE Hall of Famer and if that doesn’t get him on the card at WrestleMania, then he gives up.
LA Knight defeated Rey Mysterio in 11:00.
After the match, Dom entered the ring and shoved his father while asking if he was going to be a man and give him what he wants at WrestleMania. Rey motioned no and then exited the ring.
[Hour Two] Dom told him to walk away like he always does. Dom turned his attention to his mother Angie and sister Aalyah, who were in the front row. Dom left the ring and approached them and said that Angie sat by while Rey abandoned him and that makes her a deadbeat mom.
Aalyah stood up, but Dom called her stupid and told her to sit down. Angie pulled the mic away. Dom took it back and told her to shut up. Rey walked back to ringside. Dom held his arms out and then Rey finally snapped and punched him. Dom laid on the ringside mat while the fans chanted “yes.”
“You pushed me to do this,” Rey said. “I didn’t want to hit you, you made me hit you. You don’t disrespect your mother like that, that’s my wife. You wanted a fight at WrestleMania? You’re on. I’ll see you at WrestleMania, son.” Rey dropped the mic and the crowd roared. Dom got to his feet and headed toward the back while Rey checked on his wife and daughter…
Cole hyped the KO Show… The WrestleMania video aired. We are eight days away from the two-night event… [C]
Powell’s POV: Awesome. I love the long term storytelling of the Mysterio feud. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time before Rey would eventually give in. And I’m pretty sure everyone knew that tonight would be the night once it was revealed that Angie and Aalyah would be present. But it didn’t make it any less fun when Rey finally punched Dom and agreed to face him at WrestleMania.
Cole discussed Andy Kaufman being added to the Hall of Fame Class of 2023… Lacey Evans and Xia Li made their entrance, and their opponents Natalya and Shotzi followed…
3. Natalya and Shotzi vs. Lacey Evans and Xia Li in a qualifier for the four-way tag team showcase match at WrestleMania. Liv Morgan and Raquel Rodriguez, who previously qualified for the match, were seated at ringside. Late in the match, Evans threw a Woman’s Right at Shotzi, who ducked, causing Evans to punch out Li. Evans was sent to ringside and hit with a suicide dive by Shotzi. In the end, Natalya put Li in the Sharpshooter and got the submission win.
Natalya and Shotzi defeated Lacey Evans and Xia Li in 3:35 to qualify for the four-way tag team showcase match at WrestleMania.
After the match, Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler made their entrance while Natalya, Shotzi, Morgan, and Rodriguez were pointing at the WrestleMania sign. Baszler teased going to the ring to fight the babyfaces, but Rousey stopped her. Rousey spoke about selling out the arena and other venues in town and then decided that they’d already done enough for Vegas. Baszler announced that she and Rousey were added to the showcase match at WrestleMania…
Powell’s POV: This was quite the comedown moment for the live crowd. I continue to wonder if Becky Lynch and Lita will end up dropping the tag titles to one of these teams before WrestleMania or if they’ll turn the match into an impromptu title defense. I can’t imagine that Lita will be sticking around too long and the titles could give the showcase match some juice.
Cole said the production team is already setting up SoFi Stadium. Cole said they were building a massive set. He said a limited amount of seats opened for both nights of WrestleMania…
Drew McIntyre made his entrance for the Intercontinental Title match contract signing segment for WrestleMania… [C] Cole updated the entrants in the showcase match and officially announced Rey vs. Dom for WrestleMania…
Adam Pearce stood in the ring where McIntyre was seated at the contract signing table. Sheamus made his entrance with Ridge Holland and Butch. Sheamus complained about McIntyre backstabbing him as he made his way to the ring.
McIntyre cut him off and said Sheamus giving him guilt trips on Smackdown and online was embarrassing. He said they should have been at the bar laughing about things after their match last week, but Sheamus can’t separate what’s business and what’s personal. McIntyre said he’s beaten Sheamus and he knows he can beat Gunther, but history shows that Sheamus can’t. Pearce interjected before things got too heated and had both men sign the contract.
Intercontinental Champion Gunther made his entrance. Once in the ring, Gunther threw a chair aside and went face to face with Pearce. Gunther said he wanted Pearce to justify his decision to have him face two men, meaning that he could lose his title without being pinned. Gunther signed the contract and asked Pearce if he was happy now.
Gunther said that whatever he had to do to defend his title at WrestleMania would be justified. Gunther said he would beat McIntyre and Sheamus. Gunther turned his focus to Holland and Butch, and then Butch dove over the table at him. Sheamus and Holland pulled Butch back, and then Gunther scared the hell out of fans in the front row by throwing the contract signing table to ringside. Gunther told Pearce to make a match between him and Butch… [C]
4. Intercontinental Champion Gunther vs. Butch (w/Sheamus, Ridge Holland) in a non-title match. The match was joined in progress. Drew McIntyre also watched the match from ringside. Butch hit a couple of enzuigiri kicks, but Gunther stuffed the third. Gunther tied up Butch on the ropes and dumped him to the floor. [C]
Gunther avoided Butch attempting a moonsault off the apron and then chopped him, causing Butch to take a bump on the broadcast table. McIntyre and Sheamus approached Gunther. Butch dove at Gunther, who shoved him into McIntyre. Back in the ring, Butch took control for a moment, but McIntyre hopped onto the apron to confront him.
Sheamus pulled McIntyre to ringside. McIntyre dropped Sheamus with a Glasgow Kiss. Holland went after McIntyre, who ran him into the ring post. Sheamus dropped McIntyre with a knee to the face. In the ring, Gunther turned a distracted Butch inside out with a clothesline and then hit the Last Symphony and got the pin.
Intercontinental Champion Gunther beat Butch in a non-title match in 9:00 of television time.
After the match, Sheamus entered the ring and stared at Butch. McIntyre returned and threw a Claymore Kick that Sheamus avoided and it ended up taking out Gunther. Cole questioned whether the Claymore Kick was meant for Sheamus while he and McIntyre glared at one another…
Powell’s POV: I could definitely get excited about Gunther vs. Pete Dunne under different circumstances, but obviously there was no mystery regarding the outcome. If nothing else, I like that they found a way to keep the tension between McIntyre and Sheamus so that the title match feels like a true Triple Threat with every man for himself.
Backstage, “The Street Profits” Montez Ford and Angelo Dawkins spoke about facing Braun Strowman and Ricochet, The Viking Raiders, and Alpha Academy at WrestleMania. They questioned what Strowman and Ricochet had in common, and concluded it was their bald heads. Strowman and Ricochet showed up and weren’t amused. The teams bickered…
Kevin Owens made his entrance for the KO Show segment… [C] Cole said the Cody Rhodes vs. Solo Sikoa match was official for Monday’s Raw.
The broadcast team hyped Roman Reigns and Cody Rhodes meeting face to face, Drew McIntyre and Sheamus vs. Ludwig Kaiser and Giovanni Vinci, and the Andre the Giant Battle Royal for next week’s Smackdown…
Kevin Owens stood in the ring and welcomed viewers to his show before introducing Sami Zayn as his tag team partner, his friend, and his brother. Once Zayn was in the ring, Owens asked if he gave him the big introduction. Owens said Zayn wanted his own pop and he totally gets that.
Zayn asked if they were more backstage things they needed to spill or if they could talk about WrestleMania. Zayn said that after starting in Montreal many years ago, they are now on the verge of winning the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Titles at WrestleMania.
Zayn said WrestleMania feels different this year. Owens agreed and said he brought Zayn out because he had something for him. Zayn pulled out a t-shirt. He recalled telling Zayn that he needed a new shirt after Roman Reigns gave him an Honorary Uce shirt.
Owens unfolded the t-shirt to show that it read “KO Mania.” Zayn said it was awesome. Owens said he does that every year and it was actually the back of the shirt. Owens praised Zayn for what he’s done over the last year and said it’s about what’s on the front of the shirt, which he tossed to Zayn.
Zayn showed the “WrestleZaynia” shirt to the crowd. Owens removed his hoodie to show that he was wearing the shirt. Zayn was over the top excited about put on his new t-shirt. Zayn called for a hug. Owens told him he hugged him last week and he only gets one per year. Owens conceded and hugged Zayn.
Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso attacked Owens and Zayn while they were hugging. The Usos cleared Owens from the ring and then hit 1D on Zayn. Owens returned with a chair, causing the Usos to scurry to ringside. “The reports of the Bloodline’s death is greatly exaggerated,” Cole said. He hyped the Usos defending the titles against Owens and Zayn for next weekend…
Powell’s POV: A cute bit with the t-shirts followed by the Usos attack. I wonder if there’s one more beatdown coming next week to put a little more heat on Jimmy and Jey heading into the match, which is definitely worthy of the Saturday main event slot. I suspect it will end up being Charlotte Flair vs. Rhea Ripley headlining night one, but the tag title match really should be in that position.
Overall, the first hour of the show was strong and the show peaked with the Mysterio angle. I wonder why they didn’t save that for last. While things slowed down a bit in the second hour, it was still a good penultimate edition before WrestleMania that left me looking forward to next week’s final push. I will have a lot more to say about Smackdown in my weekly same night audio review for Dot Net Members (including our Patreon patrons). Let me know what you thought of the show by grading it below.