By David Dodgson (@DodgeeWriter)
Happy Rusev Day everybody! Will we get to celebrate by seeing Rusev win a third US Title? Probably not, but we can dream… This week should be an interesting show as in addition to the title match, WWE have managed to add some intrigue to a Kevin Owens – Sami Zayn match. Instead of rolling eyes at ‘yet another’ clash between the two, fans are interested to see how last week’s dissent plays out. Are they truly ready to come to blows? Or do they have another devious plan to upstage the management? It’s not the match, it’s the storytelling folks!
The Shane McMahon/Daniel Bryan Soap Opera
Shane O’Mac kicks off the show and immediately addresses tonight’s main event between Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. He calls out Daniel Bryan (these two clearly don’t have time for meetings during the week) and reminds him of their vision for the ‘land of opportunity’. Shane talks about how they listen to the fans, and the entire audience immediately bursts into a ‘Rusev Day!’ chant – nice work!
Shane accuses Bryan of living vicariously through KO and Zayn, drawing a big boo from the crowd (are they booing the implication or the fancy vocabulary?) Before things can go further, AJ Styles interrupts. He says he can take all the hardships of the business in his stride, but he can’t stand Smackdown management’s obsession with Owens and Zayn – from both Bryan and McMahon.
Finally, some forward movement with the Shane-Bryan story. Intriguing that there was a mention from Shane of Bryan’s desire to return to the ring… foreshadowing? We can but dream. The fans hijacking the early portion of the segment in support of Rusev was great – we will see if management acts on it later tonight!
Charlotte v. Liv Morgan
With the rest of the Riott Squad at ringside, Charlotte starts aggressively looking to get revenge for last week’s beatdown. Back from a commercial break, Morgan is in control but soon gets overpowered by the champ. She goes for a moonsault, but Morgan knocks her off the ropes and gets a near fall after a stomp in the corner. Charlotte looks to end the match with a spear but distractions from Sarah Logan and Ruby Riot prevent her from making the cover. After the heels get ejected from ringside by the ref, the champ lays out her opponent with a big boot and the figure eight. Winner: Charlotte
Yet more 50-50 booking as Charlotte gets a win after taking a beating last week. It was a decent but forgettable match. Charlotte’s statement of “1 down, 2 to go” afterwards suggests she will try to take down the rest of the Riott Squad in the coming weeks.
Bludgeon Brothers v. Nameless Jobbers
Déjà vu as Harper and Rowan make quick work of two hapless grapplers who don’t even get named.
We get it already. The only point of interest was another stare down as The Usos came to ringside for their promo.
The Usos Promo
Jimmy and Jey cut a passionate but generic promo about their transformation from face-paint toting babyfaces to one of the hottest tag acts in the world.
Again, we get it. At least there were no animated cell doors slamming this week.
Smackdown Top Ten
Chosen by superstars, Daniel Bryan runs down a list of babyfaces who topped the voting charts.
Er… can anyone explain the point of this? The appearance of Tye Dillinger at number 10 immediately reveals this is a work, but to what end?
US Title Match: Bobby Roode (c) v. Rusev
Aiden English insults the Kansas City crowd with his opening serenade but that doesn’t stop the ‘Rusev Day!’ chants with the fans clearly behind the challenger more than the champ. Indeed, Roode poses for a ‘Glorious!’ shout early in the match but gets a decidedly muted response.
The pace of the match is fairly slow, as has become the norm for Bobby Roode matches of late, with plenty of long holds peppered with the odd power move. Roode gains the upper hand after breaking free of a sleeper hold. A distraction from English allows Rusev to nail a Machka Kick for a near fall as we head into the break.
Another distraction from Aiden English after a big spinebuster allows Rusev to get another near fall off a roll up. One more Machka Kick leaves Roode prone for the Accolade but he counters into a pinning predicament. There then follows a series of counters ending in the champ landing the Glorious DDT for the win. As Bobby celebrates under the spotlight, he gets hit by an RKO Out of Nowhere. The same fate befalls English and Rusev soon after. Winner: Bobby Roode
An average match with a frantic finish. A shame Rusev didn’t get to celebrate Rusev Day in style, but an interesting development with Randy Orton at the end. Is he now set to go after Roode alone or will there be a three-way rivalry with Rusev? And has Dolph Ziggler been forgotten again? (We later find out he hasn’t as a Ziggler-Corbin match is advertised for next week with no explanation…)
Benjamin & Gable v. The Ascension
No entrance for The Ascension and no victory either. Benjamin and Gable work over Konnor’s leg, and even a hot tag to Viktor only throws them off their game briefly as they pick up the win in short order.
Just like last week, a fairly straightforward victory for Benjamin and Gable to get heat back after losing emphatically at the Royal Rumble. Interesting that the larger Konno from The Ascension got dominated with the smaller Viktor receiving the hot tag.
WWE Championship No. 1 Contender’s Match: Kevin Owens v. Sami Zayn
AJ Styles sits in on commentary for this one and immediately declares that he does not care who wins (why is he at ringside then?) Sami Zayn, having talked in an interview before the match about stepping out from under Owens’ shadow, is the aggressor early on landing hard strikes on his best friend and blasting him off the apron. A huge neck breaker earns KO a near fall and a Tornado DDT gets Zayn the same.
Another Tornado DDT through the ropes on the outside gets a ‘This is Awesome!’ chant from the crowd. Sami can’t capitalise though as a superkick and a frog splash put him down for a two-count. Owens tells his opponent to stay down, saying “I’m the one who wins the titles!” The trash talk costs him though as Zayn evades the pop-up powerbomb and hits a Blue Thunder Bomb for a near fall.
The action spills to the outside where Zayn gets in AJ Styles’ face. That riles up the champ who takes out both Zayn and Owens at ringside causing the ref to call for the bell. Daniel Bryan then comes out to announce a triple threat match for the title at Fastlane. No contest
A predictable result though a surprise for me that it came about due to AJ Styles’ lack of composure rather than a dastardly plan from Owens and Zayn. That decision will no doubt fuel the conflict between Bryan and Shane, while the nature of the match will keep the tension between KO and Sami.
At least there were developments in the Bryan/Shane and KO/Sami/AJ stories this week instead of simply increased tension. What the end goal is, however, remains unclear. It seems too early to break up Owens and Zayn, while taking the title off Styles would make no sense ahead of the match with Nakamura at Wrestlemania. The conflict between Shane and Daniel Bryan also has an unclear end. Beyond that, the rest of the card was standard stuff. The women’s division and tag team scene both seem stuck in a loop of 50-50 booking and similar segments each week respectively. The US title picture needs some added energy and hopefully Randy Orton will provide that… hopefully.
Until next week!