Here we are once again on the road to Wrestlemania and Smackdown already has everyone salivating at the prospect of a Shinsuke Nakamura main event. Will we see any build to that tonight or will the focus all be on the filler PPV in between now and the biggest show of the year? And can we expect any fallout from KO and Sami Zayn’s claims of having been screwed once again? With Owens rumoured to be hurt and Zayn in the Mixed Match Challenge, perhaps not… With a number one contender’s match set for the US title, new challengers needed for the Usos, and the women riding the wave of their first Royal Rumble match, we are hoping for an exciting show.
Shinsuke Nakamura Promo
The Royal Rumble winner kicks the show off this week (What? No Shane O’Mac or Daniel Bryan). The crowd give him a huge ovation. The Japanese sensation lists off the guys who got a ‘knee to the face’ at the Rumble and promises to give AJ Styles a knee to the face at Wrestlemania.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn interrupt to talk about how they were screwed out of the title at the PPV. After staking their claim for another joint title shot, they inform Nakamura he will face them at the big event. Nakamura calls them ‘losers’ but before KO and Sami can respond, AJ Styles’ music hits. He gets his usual big pop out of the crowd and suggests he and Nakamura make a ‘dream team’ to face the heel duo in the main event. The reply is ‘nope!’ and Owens and Zayn get blasted off the ring apron as a result.
Backstage, Daniel Bryan books the tag match for later in the night, and also announces KO and Zayn will get another opportunity when the face each other in a number one contender’s match next week.
Great call to give Nakamura the spotlight to kick off the show. The rest of the segment went as expected, with the interesting addition of a Zayn v. Owens match next week. Interesting to see Styles and Nakamura on the same page for now. Hopefully, WWE can manage the face/face dynamic in the build better than they have in the past.
US Title No. 1 Contender’s Match: Rusev v. Jinder Mahal v. Zack Ryder v. Kofi Kingston
How does one get into contention for the US title these days? Some of the names in the recent tournament and this match suggest someone has loaded up WWE 2K18 and hit the random button… Only Kofi Kingston gets a brief entrance while the cameras cut to the backstage segment between Bryan, Owens, and Zayn – doesn’t exactly show a huge amount of investment in the US Title, does it?
The crowd is as hot as ever for Rusev Day, and the New Day are causing chaos with flying pancakes. At one point, Rusev tries to fly as well when he attempts a dive to the outside, but Sunil Singh grabs his foot. That sparks a clash between him and Aiden English, which results in the New Day’s pancakes spilling to the floor. As a confrontation ensues, the referee ejects all of them to the back – good call as with Bobby Roode also on commentary, the ringside area was getting crowded.
We see the usual fatal four-way fare of guys hitting finishers only to have another participant in the match break the pinfall. The match ends when Zack Ryder gets tossed onto Jinder by Rusev, who then makes Kofi tap out to the Accolade. Post-match, Rusev and Roode have a brief stare down and the match is set for next week. Winner: Rusev
Finally, the fans get what they want – the chance to celebrate Rusev Day in style! The match was nothing special and I doubt we will get to see Rusev win the title, but at least he is getting put in the spotlight.
Tag Team Promos and the Bludgeon Brothers in Action
We see Breezango backstage with The Ascension helping them check their fan questions on Twitter. Gable and Benjamin drop in and trade a few barbs, challenging the Fashion Files duo to a match later in the evening.
The Usos list off all the teams they have ‘locked down’ in the last year (complete with an animated graphic of a cell door closing, which immediately gets over-used). The stake their claim for being the best tag team in the world and say not even a pair of brothers could beat them. Cue the arrival of the Bludgeon Brothers, on their way to the ring for a match. They do not even look at The Usos as they walk past.
Harper and Rowan enjoy their usual dominance, finishing off their jobber opponents in short order.
It will be good to see the Bludgeon Brothers move up the card while other rivalries beyond the title picture will add some depth. We can drop the ‘lock down’ animation though, and the commentary team don’t need to mention a hundred times that the Usos mentioned ‘brothers’ and then the Bludgeon Brothers came out – ok, we get it…
Charlotte talks about how she wished she could have taken part in the Royal Rumble. She talks about Ronda Rousey and wonders who will face her at Wrestlemania. Cue punk rock music – not Rousey, but the Riott Squad. Ruby calls Charlotte arrogant and entitled, stating she will not even make it to Wrestlemania. The inevitable attack follows. Charlotte clears the ring at first, but the trio eventually take her down, all hitting their finishers in turn.
As they leave, Carmella runs to the ring – a surprise Money in the Bank Cash-in! The ref takes and age to hand the case over to the ring announcer while Charlotte staggers to her feet. Carmella tires to knock the champ back down but strikes the ref instead. As he never started the match, the cash-in didn’t happen and Carmella retreats with her briefcase.
Did they give Rousey a similar sounding theme just for a momentary swerve? Possibly. The segment was all standard fare until Carmella showed up. Could the failed cash-in become a recurring comedy routine? If they can execute it as well as on this show, I would be fine with that!
Baron Corbin v. Tye Dillinger
This match was set up earlier in the night when both men approached Shane McMahon, Dillinger to complain about his place in the Rumble being stolen by Sami Zayn, and Corbin to moan about Owens and Zayn getting yet another title opportunity. The Perfect Ten starts off very aggressively but soon gets stomped to the ground by The Lone Wolf. Corbin is in control as Byron Saxton and Corey Graves argue incessantly on commentary. Dillinger brief regains control after his opponent smashes into the ringpost. He goes for the Tye Breaker but Corbin counters. One End of Days later and it’s over. Winner: Baron Corbin
Corbin looked strong here, which begs only one question – how long until he is made to play the fool again? Dillinger looked good in short bursts but remains well down the pecking order. Will he ever rise up?
Gable & Benjamin v. Breezango
Breeze gets blasted off the apron by Benjamin as soon as the bell rings leaving Fandango alone for the early portion of the match. He climbs back up but immediately gets dropped once again by Gable. Fandango creates enough of an opening to eventually make the hot tag and Breeze is briefly on top. He soon gets overpowered by Benjamin and planted to the mat by Gable for the win. Winners: Gable & Benjamin
A short match to help Gable and Benjamin get their heat back, and that’s about it.
AJ Styles & Shinsuke Nakamura v. Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn
Straight into the action as all the competitors enter during the commercial break. There is an interesting dynamic to this match as both teams know they will have to face their partners in the near future. There are some awkward tags between Styles and Nakamura, but it is Kevin and Sami who start to crack. KO berates Zayn after he takes his time to return to his corner after getting thrown to the outside. They argue until Zayn walks off to the top of the ramp leaving KO alone.
When Styles attempts a pin, Sami runs back to break it up and tags back in. As he has the champ in a headlock, Owens demands to be tagged back in. This repeats a couple of times over as KO and Zayn become increasingly agitated with each other. Zayn walks once again when Styles pushes Owens into him. KO does surprisingly well, dominating Styles until a hot tag to Nakamura. The King of Strong Style finishes him off with Kinshasa pretty soon after. In a backstage interview, Sami Zayn says it is his time to have his own title opportunity. Winners: AJ Styles & Shinsuke Nakamura
This was all story and very little match as the entire focus was on the dissent between Owens and Zayn. We will see where there goes next week – another classic match between the two or a ruse much like the feigned splits between Owens and Chris Jericho before their ultimate break up?
A decent show that suffered a little from coming at the end of a hot weekend of action. Nothing on display here matched the offerings from RAW, the Royal Rumble or TakeOver this week. However, pieces were put in place for a number of storylines moving forward – a new rival for the US title established, new rivals for the tag titles heavily implied (they said ‘Brothers’ don’t forget!), and an interesting women’s segment. Most of the matches were filler though and this broadcast lacked a standout bout. Hopefully, we will get one next week from either Roode-Rusev or Owens-Zayn.