After last night’s overloaded mash of nostalgia, squash matches, and a sprinkling of Royal Rumble build on RAW’s 25th Anniversary, Smackdown has the chance to knuckle down and act as the true go-home show for one of the biggest events of the year. Will the Smackdown Live creative team make the bold strides in storyline advancement that RAW only managed in flashes last night? Or will they serve up a plate full of filler to keep things ticking over as we get ready to rumble?
The Kevin and Sami Show
You know how this goes: heels come out and cut a cocky promo about winning the PPV title match, babyface interrupts, they trade a few barbs, the heels lay down an impossible challenge, an authority figure interrupts, and matches are set for later in the evening (AJ taking on KO and Sami in back-to-back contests).
Even Sami Zayn said during the promo that AJ Styles coming out to talk tough was predictable, conveniently ignoring that everything he and KO did was predictable too. WWE giving away Sunday’s marquee match in a slightly altered format was all too predictable as well.
Jey Uso v. Chad Gable
Another predictable match-up as two of the combatants from this Sunday’s PPV tag title match face off. We see Gable take control with his amateur wrestling skills and Jey come back with his aggression and agility. Gable’s grappling skills win out in the end as he rolls Jey up and hits a German Suplex bridging into a pin. Winner: Chad Gable
A win for one half of the challengers likely means the champions retain at the Royal Rumble (predictable). The match itself was fine but did nothing to add to the hype for the PPV that hadn’t already been done.
Naomi v. Liv Morgan
Byron Saxton says Naomi’s entrance is his favourite, Corey Graves says it’s his least favourite – I’m firmly with Graves on this one. After Liv pinned Naomi in the tag match last week, will we get predictable 50-50 booking here? Short answer – yes. During the match, the rest of the roster (minus Tamina) comes out and a post-match brawl with everyone tossing each other over the top tope breaks out. Winner: Naomi
As has been the case over the last few months, the Smackdown women’s division copies RAW from the night before as a match ends with a predictable Royal Rumble preview. The only point of interest was Becky Lynch trying to toss her fellow babyface Naomi over the top.
Shinsuke Nakamura v. Baron Corbin
This match was set up in a backstage interview earlier in the night – something not so predictable at last! Nakamura is aggressive early on causing Corbin to start making his way up the ramp. The Lone Wolf strikes back with a cheap shot to gain the upper hand. Corbin gets a couple of near falls off Deep Six and a clothesline that Bradshaw would be proud of. He then goes for The End of Days but Nakamura counters into an armbar. As the Japanese sensation sets up for Kinshasa, we get an RKO out of nowhere as Randy Orton storms the ring. Baron Corbin gets one too as the crowd go wild. No contest
That was a refreshing change of pace – an impromptu match with a rain of RKOs to cap it all off. It was a bit random maybe, but it popped the fans and did a better job of hyping the Rumble and every man for himself aspect than any segment beforehand.
The New Day & Bobby Roode v. Jinder Mahal, Rusev & Aiden English
With Big E set for the Mixed Match Challenge after Smackdown, the new US Champ joins Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston for six-man tag action. After an age of entrances and promos, we go straight to an ad break. Back to the action, and almost immediately chaos breaks out in the ring with everyone hitting signature moves. A quick tag from Roode to Woods spells the end for English as he gets laid out with a spinebuster from the Glorious One and an elbow drop from Woods. Winners: The New Day and Bobby Roode
What a waste of TV time! Almost ten minutes for The New Day and Roode to cut their promos and the heels to enter, and we (minus the ads) get two minutes of action. Hardly worth it just to find out The New Day are entering the Royal Rumble.
AJ Styles v. Kevin Owens / AJ Styles v. Sami Zayn
Before the double header begins, Shane McMahon comes out to warn the heels that if they interfere in each other’s matches, they will be excluded from the title match as they will be fired on the spot. The first match does not go long. After a couple of minutes, AJ traps KO in the Calf Crusher with Owens immediately tapping out. Styles refuses to release the hold, looking to inflict damage on one of his opponents. Zayn hits the ring to break it up (no fear of being fired as the match was over). Winner: AJ Styles
As KO, crawls away, Zayn continues to beat on the champion with the match not officially starting until after the break. Owens, claiming to be unable to walk, is still at ringside as the medics check on him. Zayn controls the early portion of the match until Styles tosses him to the outside, right next to Owens. As the champ sends his opponent back into the ring, he pauses to beat up KO a but more until Zayn makes the save. Zayn keeps the advantage netting a couple of near falls. Styles shows his resiliency though, blocking the Helluva Kick and landing a few signature moves of his own.
Owens is still at ringside, now on a stretcher, and Styles takes the opportunity to tip him off it. As the champ gets back into the ring, he gets hit by Helluva Kick, followed up by a Blue Thunder Bomb for good measure. Winner: Sami Zayn
The short first match and constant attacks on KO at ringside suggest rumours about Owens carrying a legitimate injury are true. Here, regardless, we finally got an example of WWE doing predictable right – a win a piece with the lesser light of the three ultimately going over. Zayn looked vicious here and it was good to see him get a heel’s advantage by being aggressive and opportunistic for a change instead of hiding behind his partner.
Large parts of this show suffered from lazy, predictable booking. The opening matches added little heat to the PPV matches and the New Day/Roode match was just a rushed waste of airtime. Nakamura-Corbin was a pleasant surprise that proved the RKO Out of Nowhere never gets old. Although the set up was predictable, the final pair of matches were fun to watch and did the job of getting me more invested in the title match come Sunday. A shame the undercard could not do the same.