Just two weeks away from the Royal Rumble and anticipation is building. Before that though, we have the US title tournament to settle with the announcement that both semi-finals will take place tonight with the final next week, and not at the PPV extravaganza. There will also no doubt be the usual dose of friction between Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan – can they regain some momentum this week?
US Title Tournament Semi-final: Xavier Woods v. Jinder Mahal
Are we kicking off with a match immediately this week? No, not quite as The New Day make their way to the ring to cut a US/pancake themed promo in front of a podium. Finally, after 8 long minutes (including Jinder Mahal’s entrance), the match gets underway. Mahal drops Woods with a big boot within seconds and proceeds to dominate the early going. It is the usual Jinder grind as he tries to wear his opponent down with extended holds. Any comeback from Woods gets quickly cut off by power moves and cheap shots from the former WWE champ.
A huge dropkick from the top turnbuckle finally earns the New Day star some momentum and a Shining Wizard nets him a near fall. Attempted interference from the Singh Brothers results in them getting chased up the ramp by Big E and Kofi, who toss pancakes after the diminutive duo. Back in the ring, Woods goes for an elbow drop but misses. That opens the way for Mahal to land the Khalas and advance to the final. Winner: Jinder Mahal
Somewhat of a lacklustre opener, not helped by a quiet crowd (even the New Day promo didn’t get them warmed up) and two ad breaks interrupting the action. There was also an air of inevitability about the result as the tournament continues to have no surprises.
US Title Tournament Semi-final: Bobby Roode v. Mojo Rawley
Two throwaway promo segments later (an AJ Styles interview and quick promos from every female Smackdown Live superstar about the Rumble), we get our second US title match of the night. This is much like the first match with lots of grind-them-down holds and bursts of high impact. It lacks the high-flying element of Xavier Woods, however. Mojo has the upper-hand and the crowd is dead quiet as we await the babyface comeback. That eventually comes when Rawley misses a shoulder charge and crashes into the post. Both competitors exchange near falls and the match ends when Roode blocks Rawley’s forearm smash and hits the Glorious DDT. After the bell, the Singh Brothers jump Roode from behind as Jinder Mahal watches from the stage. Roode challenges Mahal to fight him tonight. As he is about to refuse, Daniel Bryan appears to make the match. Winner: Bobby Roode
When the tournament was first announced, I was excited about the prospect of seeing some fresh match-ups. In the end though, we got a series of matches that could have been easily predicted just by looking at the first-round bracket. The only surprise came in the announcement of the final being tonight – an exciting announcement and hopefully one that means the US title can still feature on the Royal Rumble card.
Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Naomi v. The Riott Squad
I guess this is the only women’s storyline on Smackdown at the moment – a generic clash of the babyfaces and the new heel group. The match begins with Charlotte dominating her opponents. We then have an ad break and come back to Becky Lynch struggling to get out of the heels’ corner. She eventually gets the hot tag to Naomi, who does her usual high spots and running on the spot kicks. A sneaky kick from the outside by Ruby Riot creates the opportunity for Liv Morgan to land her finisher for the pin. Winners: The Riott Squad
50-50 booking reigns supreme! Good to see the heels get the win though. The finish made Naomi look weak and ineffective, which is fine by me!
US Title Tournament Final: Bobby Roode v. Jinder Mahal
After a loooong gap for Royal Rumble promos, hype packages, and entrances, we finally get to the match. Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan are both sitting at ringside for this one. Both kitted out in blue trunks, Mahal and Roode almost look like a tag team (don’t think about it WWE Creative, just don’t!)
The match follows the pattern of the others – the heel dominates with long holds, cheap shots and high impact blows and we wait for the babyface comeback. Roode is selling injured ribs from his match with Rawley but manages to battle through to land a big move from the top for a near fall. Both guys get near falls as the match reaches its conclusion. Jinder Mahal goes for the Khalas but Roode counters into the Glorious DDT to become the new champ. Winner: Bobby Roode
Not a classic match by any means and another result that could have easily been predicted beforehand. It was refreshing that Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan were able to put their differences aside to calmly watch the match and jointly present the belt to Roode – I was worried for a while that the title match might just end up being a backdrop to their on-going issues.
Something of an imbalanced show this week. While it made for interesting viewing to see the US Title get showcased, there was a lot of filler – several interviews and promos (with selfie style videos recorded on mobile devices the new vogue on Smackdown apparently) that didn’t really add to storylines (aside from Benjamin and Gable jumping The Usos from behind) and too many hype packages hurt the pace of the show. It is especially annoying when there are multiple ad breaks during matches, but a lot of airtime is wasted on hot air.
The matches didn’t help either with most of them being grinding, low energy affairs. The whole US title tournament was predictable too with Dolph Ziggler now no doubt set to return and re-ignite one of last year’s most uninspiring rivalries. Good to see Bobby Roode winning a strap on the main roster though. Starting with a mid-card belt before going after the big one makes sense.