For a pleasant change, Smackdown kicks off directly with the action this week instead of an authority or top heel promo, so I am also going to get straight to it:
Dolph Ziggler v. Baron Corbin
The show starts with a record scratch as Dolph makes yet another return to our screens to face Baron Corbin. This match was randomly announced last week with Shane McMahon later adding the stipulation via Twitter that the winner would be part of the WWE Championship match at Fastlane.
The match never gets started, however, as the cameras cut to backstage where we see KO and Zayn taking out Corbin. They then head to ringside to dish out the same treatment to Dolph. After laying him out with a Helluva Kick, they get attacked by Corbin on the ramp but the numbers game works in their favour as a gaggle of backstage officials come out to break things up. No contest
The commentary team sold the idea of KO and Zayn not wanting any extra bodies in their match with AJ Styles at Fastlane hard… but it made little sense to me. The triple threat was booked after Styles attacked his rivals during their match last week, so surely they realise they are just opening the door for both Ziggler and Corbin to be added to the bout? Anyway, that logic fail aside, it was a chaotic and exciting way to kick off the show.
Charlotte v. Sarah Logan
After taking care of Liv Morgan last week and declaring “1 down, 2 to go!” Charlotte takes on another member of the Riott Squad. She does not come alone though as Becky Lynch and Naomi soon join her corner.
Logan has the upper hand early on, but a big boot puts Charlotte in the driving seat as we head into the break. We re-join the match to see the champ unloading with trademark Flair chops, but a shoulder tackle soon puts Logan back on top. She scores a handful of near falls and keeps cutting off Charlotte’s attempted comebacks. That is until the champ slams Logan’s head into the turnbuckle and then finishes her off with Natural Selection. Winner: Charlotte
That was easily Logan’s best performance since joining SD Live. She has often looked the greenest of the heel group, but she dominated the champ for long portions of this match. Having her ultimately lose is not great for the momentum of the heels, although it does suggest that Ruby Riot might prove a stumbling block in Charlotte’s quest.
Baron Corbin v. Kevin Owens
This match was booked by Shane McMahon to give Corbin a chance to earn his shot at Fastlane. Why he did not simply put him into the title match or reschedule the contest with Ziggler, I don’t know, especially as he is hell bent on limiting KO and Zayn’s chances.
Owens goes after Corbin’s injured ribs as soon as the bell rings but bails as soon as Corbin mounts some offence. The fight spills to the outside where Owens regains some control using the apron, ring post and steps to do so. Back in the ring, he gets increasingly frustrated as Corbin continues to fight back. Late in the match, the Lone Wolf hits Deep Six and then counters the pop-up powerbomb into End of Days for the victory. Winner: Baron Corbin
Much like Logan in the previous match, Corbin was made to look really strong here. Unlike Logan, however, he was able to pick up an impressive win. Given his history of stop-start pushes the question has to be asked – how long before he is made to play the fool again?
US Title Open Challenge: Bobby Roode (c) v. ???
Roode cuts a promo about how he wishes to emulate the likes of John Cena by offering an open challenge for the US title. He calls out any opponent to meet him face-to-face and not RKO him from behind as happened last week.
Orton duly answers the challenge but before the match begins, Jinder Mahal interrupts to deride his former rival for being placed a mere 9th on the Smackdown Top Ten (seriously? Is that what this is all about?) The fans chant for an RKO as Roode points out Jinder wasn’t even in the top ten. It is not long before an RKO appears out of nowhere and fells Sunil Singh. The others brawl briefly with Jinder Mahal coming out on top after delivering the Khalas to both Roode and Orton.
OK, if this is what this top ten list is all about, let’s just drop it already. Seeing a bunch of guys in the 30-40 age bracket bickering about a popularity contest is not a good look for anyone. And another thing – can we just have a US Title Open Challenge already? AJ Styles tried to do it but Baron Corbin and Tye Dillinger hogged/prevented every opportunity and now we are getting the same here with different players. That rant aside, at least they are still doing something with Jinder even if it does revisit that awful feud with the Viper.
Pancake Day Celebration…
…with the New Day, who else? Big E is apparently going to attempt a world record for eating pancakes within a time limit. The inevitable interruption comes courtesy of Benjamin and Gable. They suggest the New Day set up their own I-Hop chain and leave Smackdown to the serious competitors. They get very little reaction from the audience until they start tossing the pancakes on the floor. Gable’s assertion that nobody likes pancakes gets the biggest boo of the night so far. Big E goes crazy and has to be held back after Benjamin flips his tray of pancakes over his head. A referee appears and apparently, we will have a match after the break.
The New Day v. Benjamin and Gable
We join the match in progress after the break with the heels in control. Some showboating from Benjamin lets Kofi get a stomp in. The hot tags to Big E and Gable lead to a slew of suplexes from both guys. Controversy late on as Gable tags in Benjamin but the referee is distracted by Woods and does not see it. Big E and Kofi then land the Midnight Hour on Gable for the win. Winners: The New Day
I didn’t know Pancake Day was a thing outside the UK. I guess it made sense for the New Day to celebrate but a lot of this segment was over-the-top silliness that bored more than entertained. A strange decision to put the New Day over though, especially as the heel team were given a legitimate gripe (that will probably lead to a rematch and some 50-50 booking in the near future).
Dolph Ziggler v. Sami Zayn
Backstage, we see Ziggler cut a passionate promo about his dream to main event Wrestlemania – where has this version of Dolph been lately? We also see KO and Zayn get into another argument as Sami takes exception to his friend saying “don’t let me down.”
The match starts much like the Corbin-Owens contest from earlier in the even as Ziggler is the aggressor and Zayn keeps ducking into the corner and forcing the break. Sami, playing the heel role to perfection, blatantly ignores the referee’s warnings and counts when their positions are reversed, however. A big dropkick and an DDT get Ziggler back into it, and a Fame-asser nets him a near fall.
A huge exploder suplex from the top rope by Zayn to Ziggler takes both men down for a few moments. Sami then goes for Helluva Kick but Dolph counters into a Zigzag. That only gets him a two-count though as a slightly muted ‘This is Awesome!’ chant begins. Zayn tosses Ziggler into the corner a couple of times and goes for another Helluva Kick. This time The Show Off counters with a superkick and gets the win. Winner: Dolph Ziggler
An interesting dynamic in both matches as they were essentially heel v. heel (or heel v. bigger heel). In both cases, the guys to be added to the match were made to look strong, even more so when you consider the beating they took at the top of the show. This was the Dolph Ziggler we have been missing this last year or so, but much like Corbin, we have to ask – how long will this push last?
The first hour of tonight’s show (along with the final match) was fantastic – strong story-telling with clear direction and under-rated superstars getting a chance to shine. The majority of the second hour dragged by contrast with the revisiting of the Jinder-Randy feud not exactly a welcome sight (especially with the added ridiculousness of arguing about the Smackdown Top Ten poll). The New Day segment was nowhere near one of their best and the tag match had the wrong winner. Still, things are developing at the top of the card and it will be interesting to see AJ Styles’ reaction next week.