2017 was a strange year for Smackdown. The Blue Brand started and ended on a high but hit a major lull in between (in other words, started and ended with AJ Styles as champ and had Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton and Jinder Mahal in between). With the Royal Rumble to build towards, a US title tournament and the unstoppable force that is Rusev Day, can Smackdown start 2018 with a bang?
AJ Styles Promo
The champ kicks things off to his usual huge pop. He runs down his New Year’s Resolutions – to carry the WWE Title all the way to Wrestlemania and beyond, and to beat Sami Zayn. He is soon joined by Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon. Shane apologises for costing AJ Styles the match against Kevin Owens last week before accusing Daniel Bryan of showing favouritism to KO and Zayn and being a part of the ‘Yep!’ movement. He says he will be at ringside for tonight’s main event of Styles v. Zayn. Bryan responds by stating he will join the party as well.
Is it just me or is Shane coming off as the heel in all of this? The crowd seemed to be behind him, however. Never fun to have an authority dominated opening segment but this is the main story on Smackdown right now, so it is to be expected.
Tag Team Championship Match: The Usos (c) v. Gable & Benjamin
Gable and Benjamin start off the match at a high tempo, nearly getting a win in under a minute (with Jey Uso essentially breaking the pin by smacking Chad Gable’s butt). We then go straight to commercials (I miss last week’s commercial free first hour already), returning to see Jey Uso taking out Gable and Benjamin on opposite sides of the ring with huge dives. The Usos go for a double dive but Benjamin pulls Jey out of the ring and smash him into the barricade. Moments later, Gable pins Jimmy and we have new champs!
Or do we? The Usos protest that Jey and Benjamin were the legal men, a second ref concurs, and the match starts over. It doesn’t run long as The Usos counter their opponents’ finisher with a Superkick Party. A splash to Benjamin finishes off a controversial match. Winners: The Usos
They had me fooled for a few moments there! That was a fast-paced match that packed a lot into a short space of time (not counting the long ad break). No doubt the controversy will play into a rematch further down the road, a match I would be happy to see.
Breezango v. The Bludgeon Brothers
The resquash of the resquash. Will this week be any different? Yes and no. Harper and Rowan attack Breezango before the bell, drawing out The Ascension. Konnor and Victor do not fare well and are soon flattened by The Bludgeon Bros. No contest
We have grown accustomed to dominant monsters squashing two opponents (Braun Strowman did it to Slater and Rhyno just last night), but it is interesting to see that kind of booking for tag teams. Is this leading to a 4-on-2 handicap match?
US Title Tournament 1st Round: Aiden English v. Xavier Woods
Rusev Day is still over with the Bulgarian taking the mic to introduce Aiden English with a song for a change. The match begins to a chant of ‘we want pancakes!’ and neither man has an advantage until Woods appearing to steal Cedric Alexander’s finisher nets a near fall. English gets near fall of his own off a spinebuster. An ill-advised attempt to launch Woods off the top rope is countered and one elbow drop later, Xavier advances and English is out. Winner: Xavier Woods
A match that ticked all the boxes for fun and games without getting ridiculous. A shame that Rusev Day isn’t getting a push to match their popularity, but their Day will come.
Natalya, Carmella, & Tamina v. The Riott Squad
Six-person tag match meets heel v. heel – there’s a combination that nobody really wants to see. The Riott Squad are in cool matching t-shirts and not-so-cool matching eye make-up (Sarah Logan in particular looks like a six-year old who has raided her elder sister’s make-up bag). The match does not go long thanks to another ad break. Towards the end, Tamina tags in and goes on a tear. As she sets up for the Splash, Ruby Riot makes the distraction and Morgan and Logan take advantage to get the win for their team. Post-match Ruby cuts a heel promo and announces her group’s entry to the Rumble. Charlotte, Naomi, and a returning Becky Lynch cut her off and a brawl breaks out with the babyfaces standing tall. Winners: The Riott Squad
That match was about as good as I expected, which was not very. The right team won though. This was more about the post-match return of Lynch, however. It was all pretty standard booking but got the job done.
AJ Styles v. Sami Zayn
This match is always going to be about the guys on the outside, and so it proves when Sami Zayn gets dumped to the outside early on. KO and Shane soon get in each other’s faces with Daniel Bryan trying to keep the peace. That allows Sami Zayn to take control of the match as we head into the break. Later in the match, Sami Zayn gets a near fall off the Blue Thunder Bomb. Styles ‘somehow manages to kick out’ according to Tom Philips even though everyone manages to lick out of that move. A Helluva Kick gets countered into a Calf Crusher with Zayn barely making it to the ropes.
Controversy late on as Styles and Zayn nearly bump into the ref, who dives out of the ring. Kevin Owens makes a show of checking he is ok, keeping the ref out of the ring while Styles has Zayn pinned. Shane then demands KO is ejected from ringside, which Bryan responds to by demanding McMahon leaves as well. In the confusion, Sami Zayn lands the Helluva Kick for the win.
After the match an angry Styles berates everyone at ringside leading to Bryan to set a handicap match at Royal Rumble: Styles v. Owens & Zayn for the WWE title. Winner: Sami Zayn
That all made sense until Bryan’s announcement. Shane was hot-headed as usual and cost Styles a match for the second week in a row. Bryan was the voice of reason, so why did he announce a match that so clearly favours Zayn and Owens? Having said that, I doubt this will be like Jericho/Owens v. Reigns for the US Title last year. With the big prize at stake, will we see Owens and Zayn’s relationship start to fracture over who gets the pin? And what role will McMahon and Bryan play?
A decent show that fell short of being spectacular. That final announcement aside, most of the booking was logical and there was a sense of momentum building towards the Royal Rumble. In terms of ring work, the tag division stole the day again with The Usos and Gable/Benjamin outing on a high energy and controversial match. In terms of entertainment, Rusev Day and The New Day stole the show again. It may not be an episode that lives long in the memory but it was worth a watch.