Pieces are being put into place ahead of the Royal Rumble. We now know that AJ Styles will face Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a handicap match announced by Smackdown GM Daniel Bryan last week – how will the Phenomenal One react to the news this week? We also know that a new US Champ will be crowned at the event with the last of the first-round matches tonight. Will it be Zack Ryder or his former partner Mojo Rawley who takes the last spot in the final four? With Becky Lynch now back, will she have the Riott Squad in her sights? Who else will announce their entry to the Royal Rumbles match(es)? And how will we celebrate the latest Rusev Day? All questions to be answered tonight.
AJ Styles Interview
Renee Young kicks things off in a sit-down interview with the champ. She asks him for his thoughts on Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon’s recent decisions. Styles tries to avoid stirring up controversy but does state that he feels the handicap match decision was questionable. He vows to beat his opponents despite the odds.
That brings KO and Zayn out. They say the champ has no chance as the crowd chant ‘AJ Styles!’ KO says he and Zayn will be the first ever co-holders of the belt as Zayn tries and fails to get a ‘Yep!’ chant going. Shane O’Mac comes out and announces the night’s main event. As KO and Zayn like handicap matches, he books the two of them to face Styles, Orton, and Nakamura later on.
That was all to set up tonight’s main event but there was little else in terms of advancing the storyline. I am confused by KO’s assertion that he and Zayn will be co-champs. I thought whoever gets the pin will win the belt, as was the case with KO and Jericho taking on Roman Reigns for the US title last year… Consistency of rules has never been WWE’s strong point.
Becky Lynch v. Ruby Riot
Becky Lynch is the first superstar of the evening to add herself to the Royal Rumble as she prepares to get revenge for the brutal backstage attack she suffered weeks ago. Charlotte and Naomi join her at ringside to even out the numbers (thus wasting two minutes of TV time on Naomi’s over-bearing entrance). Becky Lynch starts the match in control, and even attempted early interference from the Riott Squad can’t knock her off her game.
Back from the break, Riot is working over Lynch’s mid-section, which of course they injured during their debut backstage attack. Lynch soon fires back and counters a Riot Kick attempt into a Dis-armer to make Riot tap. Winner: Becky Lynch
Why make this match so soon after Lynch’s return? Either star going over hurts the other’s momentum. Having Ruby lose clean so early in her run nulls any heat the Riott Squad had. A DQ finish or interference leading to a Riot win would have made more sense.
The Ascension v. The Bludgeon Brothers
Can anyone remember the last time they saw The Ascension in a TV match? This is one for them to forget as Victor gets obliterated in about a minute. Post-match Konnor gets a double powerbomb as well. Winners: The Bludgeon Brothers
That went as expected. Harper and Rowan were dominant but beating a team who rarely wrestle on TV is hardly a momentum builder. They need to move on to bigger teams now.
US Title Tournament First Round: Mojo Rawley v. Zack Ryder
Bobby Roode, who awaits the winner in the semi-finals, is sat at the commentary table but not actually on commentary for this one. The former tag team partners play out the latest chapter in their rivalry in front of a largely uninterested crowd. Rawley dominates most of the match and wins in short order with a forearm smash in the corner. After the match, he has a stare down with Roode, which ends when the Glorious One’s music plays. Winner: Mojo Rawley
Roode essentially came out just to pop the crowd with his entrance. He offered nothing to a bland segment that went entirely as predicted. No surprises in this tournament so far as everything has followed a face/heel pattern. Is anyone expecting anything other than a Roode/Mahal final?
Benjamin & Gable Demand Justice
Benjamin and Gable (who is wearing a #FreetheTagTitles t-shirt) finally confirm they are heels by insulting the home crowd, and go over last week’s controversial finish. They question the appearance of the second referee and the use of the instant replay. They call the ref out but get Daniel Bryan instead. The GM reiterates that the referee’s decision is final. Gable asks what they need to do. As soon as he says, “do we need to beat them twice in one night?” it is obvious – Bryan books a 2 out of 3 falls match for the Rumble.
That took a long time to get where it was going. It is good to see the Smackdown titles on the PPV card but you have to wonder how a two out of three falls match will fit in to a card that needs to showcase two Royal Rumble matches and four other title matches as well.
Breezango v. Rusev Day
Before the match, English and Rusev announce their entry into the Royal Rusev Rumble. After an age of English in the ring, Rusev finally tags in much to the delight of the crowd. He beats down Fandango, brushing off attempted interference from Breeze. The match ends surprisingly as Rusev hits Breeze with a superkick but then gets rolled up by Fandango. Winners: Breezango
A cheap victory for Breezango that achieves… what exactly? Rusev is one of the most over guys on the roster but he keeps getting booked to fall short. Any idea when that might change?
AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, & Randy Orton v. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
After five minutes of entrances (Owens and Zayn may be heels but at least they enter together), Orton and Owens start things off. The babyfaces dominate the early going leading to the heels trying to walk out. Shane O’Mac soon appears to add a no count-out stipulation.
Guess what happens next? Just as Orton is setting up the RKO, Owens comes in with a chair and gets his team disqualified. Out comes Shane. It’s a no DQ match! Styles immediately takes advantage with some chair shots of his own. He and KO go into the backstage area leaving Zayn alone with Nakamura and Orton. They smash him into the post and the steel steps before dropping him onto the announce table. A Kinshasa and an RKO follow for the win. Winners: Styles, Nakamura, and Orton
What happened to Styles and Owens? I was expecting them to feature in the finish or for the camera to cut to them post-match. We’ll probably find out on WWE.com later. That was all fairly predictable – crafty heels try to sneak away but authority figure announces new stipulations… How many times have we seen that? It was of little consequence, however, and featured over-used combinations of superstars.
What did we learn this week? We learned a few more names for the Royal Rumble (and some more Mixed Match Challenge teams if you are following that) and that was about it. In terms of in-ring action, there was little of note and storyline wise, we are exactly where we were last week on all fronts. A predictable and forgettable episode.