By David Dodgson (@DodgeeWriter)
Smackdown comes to us live this week from Manchester, UK meaning we get to see wide shots of the crowd for the first time in several weeks. And we get a huge moment we have all been waiting for. We have watched their interactions on screen over the last few weeks, and we have been waiting a long, long time for one guy to get what’s coming to him. That’s right folks – it’s time for Becky Lynch v. James Ellsworth! Duh! Oh, and there’s a couple of title matches as well.
“What a way to kick off Smackdown!” Again. Shane O’Mac comes out to a huge ovation. He runs through the card with the crowd popping big time for Becky Lynch and AJ Styles and raining down thunderous boos for Jinder Mahal (as was the case in their pre-recorded messages that fronted the show).
The Smackdown Commissioner soon moves onto Survivor Series, restating his claim that his show is the superior show. The crowd are genuinely upset that Daniel Bryan is not present, adding some heat to the inter-brand rivalry. Shane calls out the New Day (with the crowd not waiting for him to finish his introduction before chanting ‘New Day Rocks!’) to congratulate them for their interference in the RAW tag team title match 24 hours ago. They gloat about both invasions of RAW (drawing many cheers but also a few boos for costing Ambrose and Rollins the titles).
Just as Shane starts dancing with the New Day, KO and Sami Zayn crash the party (and also get a rapturous reception from the Manchester crowd). They say they could have attacked RAW but are too honourable and have been screwed out of a Survivor Series place as a result. The New Day fire off insults, getting a ‘Paperboy’ chant from the crowd directed at Zayn. This all inevitably leads to a match being booked…
Sami Zayn v. Kofi Kingston
With ‘paperboy!’ chants still ringing out, this match begins surprisingly slowly. The pace picks up after Kofi delivers a huge dropkick right to Sami’s face. Kofi pops the crowd with some creative jumps off the ropes and an SOS. Zayn regains the advantage by countering Trouble in Paradise to the Blue Thunder Bomb for a near fall. Kofi then ducks the Helluva Kick to get back in it and a cross body splash off the ropes is enough to net the win. KO attacks Kingston after the bell but the rest of the New Day chase him off. Winner: Kofi Kingston
A fun way to kick off the show. Everyone involved really worked the crowd during the opening promo and drew the right balance of humour and intensity. The match was entertaining, but I do wonder what is happening with Sami Zayn – a heel turn has led to no change in his fortunes between the ropes.
Rusev v. Randy Orton
We were expecting this to be AJ Styles and Rusev for a Team Blue place. The Phenomenal One will be busy later on tonight so WWE have done what they always do by revisiting a recent rivalry. Orton is already on the team of course, but Rusev can join the team as well if he wins. A huge shock before the match has even started as Aiden English manages to finish a song without being interrupted – a WWE first. Both stars go for their finishers immediately but get countered. After a kick to the back of Orton’s head, Rusev makes three pin attempts in succession and that’s sets the tone for the match. The crowd exchange chants of ‘Let’s go Rusev!’ and ‘RKO!’ and it is the latter that comes out of nowhere to get Orton the victory. Winner: Randy Orton
So that leaves Team Blue without its fifth member, but where does it leave Rusev? Putting him in the spotlight at Survivor Series could have been the start of a push for him. Alas, it seems for whatever reason that is not something WWE are interested in right now.
Becky Lynch v. James Ellsworth
Backstage, we see Ellsworth and Lynch exchange a few barbs with the Chinless Wonder getting called out as balls-less by his opponent. The entire women’s division – excluding champ Natalya – are at ringside for this one. With the crowd calling out “Becky’s gonna kill you!” Ellsworth surprises us with some mat moves until Lynch picks him up and sits him on the turnbuckle. She then takes him for a literal spin or two before getting shoved out of the ring. He goes for No Chin Music but Becky counters into an atomic drop. A Beck-sploder suplex sends Ellsworth to the outside. He thinks about escaping but gets thrown back in by Charlotte and co. He pleads with Becky and tries to hug her but gets trapped in the Dis-armer and taps out. Post-match, he eats a superkick from Carmella. Winner: Becky Lynch
Surprising that this match went more than 2 minutes! This could have been dreadful, but they did a good job of putting on a light-hearted match and Ellsworth got what was coming to him. We will add him to the list of ‘what now?’ with Rusev. Backstage, we also saw Shane McMahon book Natalya to defend her title against Charlotte next week – Alexa Bliss v. Charlotte at Survivor Series sounds like a much better match-up than the currently booked one.
Tag Team Title Match: The Usos (c) v. Gable & Benjamin
The Usos cut a great promo on their way to the ring and launch straight into an attack on Gable and Benjamin as Smackdown launches straight into an ad break. The match is nothing much ending quickly when Chad Gable chops Jey Uso’s knee on the outside. He can’t get up and the match ends via count-out to the derision of the crowd. Winners: Gable & Benjamin via count-out
Was that a legitimate injury? The replay looked nasty and the fact that Benjamin made no attempt to break the count suggest that maybe it was. Or is it a storyline injury to add a twist ahead of Survivor Series? Or was it lazy booking based on time running short? I guess we will find out over the next couple of days.
WWE Championship Match: Jinder Mahal (c) v. AJ Styles
We come into this match straight out of commercials with no entrances (I guess they are rushed for time after all). Mahal immediately takes the initiative using his power advantage (hyped up in backstage interviews and by the commentary team all show). Outside the ring, he catches AJ as he leaps off the barricade and slams him into the announcer’s table.
Back in the ring, Mahal looks to wear his challenger down with big knees. After a quick counter, AJ takes over with fast strikes and kicks and soon slaps on the calf crusher. Jinder makes it to the ropes just in time. Late in the match, AJ hits the Phenomenal Forearm and the 450 Splash but the Singhs, who haven’t been a factor yet, pull their boss to safety. AJ goes nuts, taking both of the former Bollywood Boys out.
Mahal manages to hit the Khalas but Styles, much to the delight of the crowd, gets his foot on the rope. Jinder then tries to set up his finisher from the top rope but Styles bounces his head of the top rope instead. He then hits the Phenomenal Forearm one more time for the win, accompanied by one of the loudest crowd pops I have heard in a long time. Winner and new WWE Champion: AJ Styles
Wow – did AJ get a good match out of Jinder? Or was it good because AJ won? I’ll let you decide. The title changes hands outside North America for the first time, and on a Smackdown show to be shown on delay in the US to boot. The war of words between Paul Heyman and Jinder Mahal counts for nothing as Survivor Series will now be Brock Lesnar v. AJ Styles. That is a match I want to see (now watch as they put the title back on Jinder next week).
Everyone will be talking about the title change, which completely brought the house down (through the result as much as the match). The UK crowd made the entire show fun with much more noise and interaction than we have seen on the sparsely attended shows in the US over the last few weeks. While I enjoyed watching this week’s show, there were still some questionable decisions. Having Zayn and Rusev lose their respective matches was a headscratcher as the show needs a legitimate heel threat other than KO. Lynch v. Ellsworth managed to be entertaining without being cringeworthy, but that time could have been better spent on the tag title match (if indeed it was cut short and not a legitimate injury). Still, Smackdown has got me buzzing again and I am keen to see what happens next week.