Well, Happy New Year everyone. It’s a time for resolutions and new beginnings, which probably means that we’re in for another year of more or less the same from WWE. Call me a cynic.
But this is no time for whining or complaints. Instead, let’s dive right into SmackDown Live and see if the Blue Brand puts the first foot wrong.
We start things off with a recap of the last episode of 2017, which has to be in some way symbolic. Thanks to Sami Zayn and most definitely Shane McMahon, Kevin Owens beat AJ Styles. If they actually try to make Shane the hero in this storyline, which several sites have confidently assured me that they will, then I think it’s proof that I don’t understand the American psyche.
AJ Styles doesn’t want to live on this planet anymore
The show proper kicks off with AJ Styles making his way to the ring. He has a match later tonight with Sami Zayn, and it’s actually a pleasant surprise to hear Byron Saxton consider admitting that a barely-visible morsel of blame might be said to possibly, insofar as the situation currently stands, be said to belong, however fleetingly, to Shane McMahon. I don’t know whether its a New Year’s Resolution or if Byron Saxton will shortly find himself in Room 101, but it’s at least something.
Styles wishes everyone a Happy New Year and welcomes everyone to the first SmackDown Live of 2018 (same as the last SmackDown Live of 2017). He says that it’s a new year with new chances and new beginnings. He guesses that a lot of resolutions are going to involve going all the way in the Royal Riott match (this running gag is brought to you by Ruby Rumble: misusing synonyms like you know what words are). If he’s using “all the way” in the sexual context then that is a difficult yet laudable task the men of WWE have set themselves. But his own resolution is to successfully retain his WWE Championship at WrestleMania.
Styles says that he doesn’t care about Owens or Shane, because he’s done that storyline too many times already. What he is curious about is whether Zayn will be allowed to have Owens at ringside (using the official definition imparted to us by Sami Zayn in the Year of Our Lord two thousand and seventeen). So he decides to ask Daniel Bryan, who makes his way out to address these concerns.
Before Bryan can speak, Shane’s music plays and he comes out too. AJ looks a little perplexed by this, but doesn’t start shit because the last thing he wants is to have to defend his title against Shane at WrestleMania. Oh, you think they wouldn’t book it?
Shane says that last week he had the best of intentions when he requested that Zayn be ejected. He says that everyone would rather watch a match decided by its participants’ abilities rather than interference (don’t think about the last six months of Jinder Mahal, don’t think about the last six months of Jinder Mahal). He admits that he may have contributed to AJ’s defeat, which is weaselly as fuck but more honest than your average politician.
Shane then moves on to say that he’s been accused by certain basic bearded bitches who shall remain named Daniel Bryan of having a vendetta against Zayn and Owens. But the issue, to Shane, clearly is that if Bryan loves them so much then he should just marry them. He asks them why he allowed Sami Zayn to be at ringside (don’t think about the last six months of Jinder Mahal, don’t think about the last six months of Jinder Mahal), and asks if Bryan’s turning the YES Movement into the YEP Movement.
I don’t know what poet they got to write this, but the beauty of this line reduced me to tears.
Shane goes on to say that if Owens is going to be in Sami Zayn’s corner tonight, then Shane will be at ringside too. Bryan says that he’d actually not been planning exactly on having Owens out there, but if Shane’s going to be there then fuck it: let him watch. And he’ll be there too, because why the fuck not? Styles looks like he’s reliving slamming Shane’s head through that car window.
These referees are the fucking worst
Motherfucking Tag Team Championship match time, and if “more title matches on free TV” is going to be a SmackDown Live resolution then I don’t even have a joke about that: please just give me free TV title matches.
Gable and Benjamin make their way to the ring, and then watch the SmackDown Tag Team Champions approach. The Usos have microphones and talk themselves up on their way down to the ring. I have to admit, I’m enjoying their promos far more than I ever used to.
Aw yeah: our first post-entrance BIG MATCH FEEL announcements of the new year (fuck off, RAW‘s Intercontinental Championship match: this is a SmackDown review). The belts are raised, and Jimmy and Shelton start things off. Benjamin knocks Jey off the apron to begin, and the switching of his attention allows Jimmy to jump on and start clobbering him (making the targeting system of WWE 2K18 seem oddly realistic).
Shelton drives Jimmy into his corner, and Gable may have tagged himself before Jimmy knocked him to the ground. Jimmy creates some separation from Shelton, ascending to the top rope. Benjamin catches him up there, bringing him down in a manner reminiscent of his old mentor, Kurt Angle. Gable is already on the top rope, and moonsaults right onto Jimmy, going for the pin! Jey just manages to break it up, amazed that they’re doing near falls this early.
Holy shit, there was an advert for another Maze Runner movie during the commercial break. Christ, there is some shite being pushed at young adults right now. Where are the adaptations of books I read in my childhood: where are my terrifying Robin Jarvis movies, or some Redwall films? When are they going to bastarding make an Artemis Fowl a cinematic fucking feature? At least I’ve got A Series of Unfortunate Events, thanks to Netflix.
Anyway, during the break the challengers really take it to the Usos, with Benjamin in particular giving them some real trouble. When we rejoin the action, Jimmy manages to slam a boot into the side of Gable’s skull and in come Jey and Benjamin! Jey immediately throws Shelton out and dives onto him, and then does the exact same thing to Gable.
Both Usos then go for a dive, but Benjamin grabs Jey and hurls him into the barricade before smashing his knee into Jimmy’s head as the Uso tries to dive out onto Gable! Gable and Benjamin hit their double team finisher on Jimmy (not the legal man), and they don’t legally win the SmackDown Tag Team Championships!
Kind of a disappointing match, even with the twist. I get that they were trying to make the screwy finish the story, but this was less fantastic in comparison to some of the tag team action we’ve been seeing. 2 Stars.
Jimmy and Jey plead their case to the referee, and another ref comes out to explain that this was total bullshit and even some asshole writing a review of the action whilst watching it could realise that they pinned the wrong guy.
And apparently this is one of the phases of the moon where you can actually override a referee’s decision (I don’t claim to understand WWE’s rules; I merely report them), and the match is restarted! The announcer uses the phrase, “the referee has realised his mistake”, which is the most passive-aggressive thing I’ve seen in a fucking while. He also uses the phrase “null and void”, which is a nice touch.
After a break, Shelton and Chad are still yelling at the refs before the Usos just jump them. Benjamin is in the ring with…God, I actually don’t know. This is going to be awkward. But Schrödinger’s Uso puts a hurting on Shelton before Gable drags his partner out of the way of a Samoan Wrecking Ball. An Uso who might be Jimmy or Jey runs at Gable and eats a big dropkick, and the Uso who might be Jey or Jimmy smacks Gable in his youthful face. Shelton rolls up the Legal Uso, then hits a spinebuster.
Benjamin and Chad set up their double team, but Gable leaps into a superkick! Benjamin eats a double superkick, Jey or Jimmy tags in Jimmy or Jey; whoever it is hits the splash and the Usos retain their Championships!
Okay, that second segment improved it: they kept a lot of the action back for that, plus the finish was really awesome. Overall, looking at it as a whole, that match gets 3 Stars.
I’m also being told that Chad Gable wasn’t the legal man when he made the pin that first time either. This is some amateur shit, referee.
Backstage, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are walking around being wonderful. Renee Young ambush-interviews them, asking if Shane and Bryan being at ringside will make things different from last week. Way to bulldoze the fourth fucking wall, Renee. Owens explains that many things can be different, but the result won’t be.
Except even if Sami Zayn does win, the result will still be different from Kevin Owens beating AJ Styles. Fucking stupid wrestlers, man.
Aw, and from Gable and Benjamin’s dreams dying, we move onto Tyler Breeze and Fandango dying. Because they’re facing the Bludgeon Brothers in an angle which I am praying forces the Ascension to become serious and have a fucking brawl with Harper and Rowan.
The Bludgeon Brothers emerge, ready to hit someone so much and so hard that it legally becomes a hate crime regardless of the ethnicity or religion of the participants. We start to see how the Ascension booked this match, but the Bludgeon Brothers’ wrath cannot be contained and they pounce on Breezango, ending the clip. Holy shit, they attacked during a flashback.
I fucking love these guys.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Breezango get worked the fuck over, and then the Ascension’s music hits! Come on, WWE! Do this one thing right for me! Konor and Viktor get up on the apron…and then the Bludgeon Brothers massacre them.
For fuck’s sake.
Negative 7,000,000,000,000,000 Stars for pissing on my dreams in so direct a fashion.
Backstage, Xavier Woods is wearing a blindfold (and I fucking envy him for that because it meant he didn’t see that bullshit), and the New Day arrive to give him plate of pancakes. Woods states that if he becomes the United States Champion, then they all do: I really want to know about the legality of that. Then English and Rusev arrive to be hilarious and awesome and insulting. God, the Tag Team Division is wonderful right now.
Jesus Christ, Mojo Rawley’s on camera. What hath science wrought? He promises to beat Zack Ryder next week during the US Championship Tournament, though says nothing about winning the Championship. I agree, Mojo: let’s not get crazy.
Jinder Mahal claims the locker room for India
In the ring, Aiden English is about to sing, when Rusev takes the microphone. What heresy is this? But he wants to introduce English! Goddamn, this sweet. Rusev sings English’s introduction, because whatever you give these two just sort of becomes great.
The New Day then arrive, and I wonder what qualified Woods to enter the tournament as opposed to, say, multiple time midcard title-holder Kofi Kingston. I’ve no problem at all with it; I’m just curious how this all got decided.
Woods and English lock up, with Aiden applying a headlock. Woods shoots him off the ropes and gets knocked on his ass, manages to counter several moves by English and knocks him down too. English is thrown through the ropes by Woods, dodges a dive but takes a kick to the gut. A distraction from Rusev allows English to counter the Honor Roll, slamming Xavier’s head into the steel steps. On a monitor, Jinder Mahal is watching the footage. Wait, did they actually hang an Indian flag up there? Like, just in front of the TV? Even if that’s Mahal’s private locker room (which I see no reason for him to have, considering his current position), who just hangs up a fucking flag? If you walk into someone’s house in Britain and they’ve got the English flag up, then either the World Cup’s on or you realise that they’re a jingoistic twat.
I guess Jinder is supposed to be a jingoistic twat, though. So…I’ll allow it?
English continues to work over Woods, and yes: it is still weird to see Aiden English actually perform offence. Corey Graves is quoting songs from Beauty and the Beast instead of commentary, and it’s still better than whatever Phillips or Saxton are saying. Woods finally throws English’s sleeper hold off him, and then superkicks SmackDown‘s pale performer.
Back to their feet, English scores some blows on Woods, but gets taken up for a huge backbreaker! Woods rolls up English, who rolls him up in return before slamming him to the mat for a near-fall. Aiden brings Woods up to the second turnbuckle and goes for a piledriver! Jesus, that’s murder! Woods, fighting for his very life, throws English off him and plants him with the springboard elbow to take the match.
Jinder Mahal looks happy, which I guess you would when your opponent is nowhere near as vascular as you are.
Decent match, and it seems we can all totally buy English as a serious competitor: who’da thunk it? 2.5 Stars.
Backstage, the Welcoming Committee is being interviewed by Kayla Braxton in advance of their match tonight against the Rumble Squad. Natalya says that they’re feeling pretty good about this match, considering how they ran those bitches off last week. Everyone gets a random line to say, and they actually seem pretty badass and serious.
Shame they’re about to get the shit kicked out of them, really.
These Ruby Rumble jokes don’t stop until after the Royal Riott
The Welcoming Committee make their way to the ring together. We see what happened last week, where they actually saved Charlotte and Naomi. The Rumble Squad arrive with their absurdly unsuitable music, and it’s time for a match.
Liv Morgan starts off against Natalya, and gets taken over in a headlock. Morgan scissors the head, applies her own headlock and gets her own head scissored. Natalya goes after the arm; Morgan’s able to roll through, matrixes under one clothesline and then takes another. She has to force her way out of the Sharpshooter, rolling right outside the ring to escape as the Rumble Squad members come to her aid.
What a fearsome trio they have remained.
During the break, Morgan manages to score some offence, and tags in Ruby Rumble to be vaguely effective. Natalya backs Rumble into the corner and then tags in Carmella to do the exact opposite. Carmella manages to actually score some hits on Ruby before Rumble’s able to take the advantage, tagging in Logan to bring the power game.
When we come back, Carmella is totally at the mercy of Sarah Logan. Carmella manages to fight out of the sleeper hold, and Logan is savvy enough to knock Natalya off the apron. But before she can dispose of Tamina, Carmella rolls Logan up. Sarah kicks out and Carmella tags in Tamina!
Tamina smacks Logan in the face before even getting into the ring, and continues the trend once inside. Ruby Rumble runs in, but is sent packing immediately following a superkick from Tamina. Samoan drop flattens Logan, and Tamina wants that Superfly Splash. Rumble distracts the referee and Live Morgan shoves Tamina off the top. Sarah Logan does…God, some kind of fucking cartwheel before hitting Snuka with both knees? Wait, that’s her finisher?
There are no words.
Fair match, with the glaring exception of an incredible dumb finisher. I mean, it doesn’t even look impressive! The People’s Elbow may just be an elbow drop, but it gets a pop because it’s absurdly entertaining! Is someone trying to sabotage Sarah Logan, because from the Southern Gal persona to that cowpat of a finishing move it seems like she must have dissolved someone from WWE Creative’s children in a vat of pure alkali. 2 Stars.
Ruby Rumble gets on the microphone, and says she bet everyone in Orlando believes in magic, which is a damn weird start even for a wrestling promo. She then says that magic isn’t real: it’s all a work, brother. She calls the crowd phonies, and tells us that we pretend our way through life. Wow, woman who works in a company that entirely revolves around fake fighting: you sure showed me.
Ruby says that we all need a strong dose of reality. The Rumble Squad is real, as is their dominance and success. Let’s not go nuts here, Rube. She then announces that Sarah and Liv are joining her in the Women’s Royal Riott match.
Okay, time out: the Royal Riott is going to involve thirty women, right? Then why is every active female competitor in the WWE announcing their participation? The WWE doesn’t have thirty active female wrestlers; they’re probably going to put Lana in there for God’s sake. I think from the moment this Women’s Royal Riott was announced, we just assumed that every active female wrestler was going to be in it. Stop acting like it’s a big surprise: we’ll be surprised when Trish, Lita, Beth Phoenix or Awesome Kong are the surprise entrants.
Charlotte Flair then arrives on the ramp. She congratulates the Rumble Squad on their victory, and says that she believes in the power and magic of her dreams. Is…is Charlotte Flair starting a cult? She tells Ruby that actions have consequences, and out comes Naomi.
And then Charlotte introduces Becky Lynch, who has way more right to be pissed off than Naomi does. Although she looks way more cheerful than serious; I suppose she might just be a psychopath.
The three effective women of WWE attack, with Charlotte taking out Logan, Naomi felling Morgan with a springboard kick and Becky hitting first Ruby and then Morgan with Bexploder Suplexes. The Rumble Squad retreat, looking furious.
Somewhere backstage, Baron Corbin has convinced the same crew who filmed Mojo Rawley’s promo earlier to let him talk about the Royal Riott. I’d laugh, but the guy eliminated fucking Braun Strowman last year and I respect that. Corbin announces his entry into the Royal Riott, and you know what? That makes sense, because there are more than fifteen male wrestlers on SmackDown.
AJ Styles ain’t got time for your petty shit
Here comes AJ Styles, ready to thoroughly resent being a pawn in this great chess game between Bryan, Shane, Owens and Zayn. Daniel Bryan follows him out, as does Shane McMahon. Sami Zayn then makes his entrance, accompanied by Kevin Owens.
Styles throws himself at Zayn in a clothesline, knocking Sami to the mat. He stays on his opponent, smacking him around in the corners before suplexing him in the centre of the ring. Zayn jumps Styles when the ref has him distracted. AJ is sent over with a backdrop from Sami.
Styles fights back with some blows, then leapfrogs over and ducks under Zayn before slamming his boots into Sami’s face in a dropkick. Zayn rolls to the outside; Styles pursues and Owens gets in his face. Like this is his fucking reason for breathing, Shane immediately materialises next to AJ, telling Owens to fuck off and die. Bryan tries to keep the peace, and Styles sends Sami back into the ring.
Zayn has had enough time to the recover, and catches Styles with a kick on his way back into the ring, following it up with a fisherman buster. After a commercial break, Zayn has a rear chinlock applied to Styles, keeping him grounded. AJ suddenly fires back with a flurry, hitting a running forearm to Zayn before needing a few seconds to recover. The referee doesn’t bother with a count even with both men down, because fuck the rules, I guess.
Styles hits a stinger splash and then a gutbuster. AJ wants the ushigoroshi, but Zayn fights out of it, heading onto the apron and hanging Styles up on the ropes. Zayn heads up to the top rope, but Styles catches and crotches him before he can do anything with it. Ushigoroshi strikes, and Sami only just gets the shoulder up.
Styles wants the Styles Clash, but Sami determinedly sandbags him before going with it and reversing into the Blue Thunder Bomb! AJ barely kicks out, and then is able to turn a Helluva Kick attempt into the Calf-Crusher! He rolls Sami into the centre of the ring, but Zayn still drags himself over to the ropes, finally grasping one.
Styles releases the hold, and Sami furiously punches at him, desperate to avoid another submission. AJ returns to fire, with the punch-up ending with the Pele Kick. Sami elevates AJ onto the apron, taking a huge blow to the face. Styles is in position; Sami ducks the Phenomenal Forearm and Styles runs Zayn into the ropes to roll him up, with the referee having to bail out of the ring to get out of their way!
Styles rolls Sami up again with a crucifix pin, but Owens is doing his best to distract the ref! Zayn kicks out when the count finally starts, and then the referee takes a moment to yell at Owens. Styles joins in the yelling, having learned nothing from something a lot like this situation that happened last week, and suddenly Shane is shoving Owens to the ground and yelling at him.
The ref ejects Owens at Shane’s behest, and Bryan gets a microphone and announces that, in which case, Shane should be ejected too. Wow, this is getting convoluted. Styles punches Owens off the apron, allowing Sami to score a Helluva Kick and win the match.
I think a lot of this was lost by everyone just waiting for the screwy finish again. To contrast it to the Usos’ match earlier, however, it meant that everything focused on the ending, whereas the Tag Team Championship match flowed through and past the controversy. I’m a little worried about Bryan following that dumb call, and Styles just should have known better. 2.5 Stars.
Styles gets on the microphone and tells Shane and Bryan to “stop bickering like children”. Yeah, that should solve all of this: thanks, AJ. He says that he may as well have a handicap match against the two of them…and Bryan makes on at the Royal Riott for the WWE Championship.
So, yeah, I guess Daniel Bryan’s the villain.
Shit, I agree with Byron Saxton.
So, the bad: The Rumble Squad is in real danger of losing cred. They might as well have taken out the Welcoming Committee backstage one by one (what, like the Welcoming Committee has any sort of rep to protect?) and then Charlotte, Becky and Naomi could have come at them as they were in the ring, laughing about it. Or get everyone accept Natalya, who goes down swinging in a heroic effort. I’m also kinda pissed about this very unnatural change for Bryan, who before was doing things subtly enough to claim neutrality, and has now made this move that there is almost certainly no explanation for.
And fuck whoever opted to feed the Ascension to the Bludgeon Brothers like that, giving us one badass team instead of two. Newsflash: the Bludgeon Brothers could still have won, and beating a badass Ascension team in a hard match gives them way more momentum than mowing through two joke characters. Christ, WWE.
The good: I’m so happy to have Becky back; I’ve missed being able to review matches featuring my favourite Women’s Division competitor. English performed well by himself, but the show was surely stolen by the Usos, Benjamin and Gable. 7/10.
Tags: aiden english, AJ Styles, Bludgeon Brothers, Bobby Roode, Breezango, byron saxton, charlotte flair, Corey Graves, Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, Gable and Benjamin, Jinder Mahal, Kevin Owens, Liv Morgan, naomi, Riott Squad, Ruby Riott, sami zayn, Sarah Logan, Shane McMahon, smackdown live, The Ascension, the usos, Tom Phillips, WWE, xavier woods