Happy Wednesday, everyone. It’s time for another episode of SmackDown Live as we head towards the penultimate PPV of the wrestling calendar. Styles is dealing with his approaching Championship defence, and John Cena is in desperate search of a WrestleMania match. Let’s check it out.
John Cena will be in a WrestleMania Championship match, or none at all
Well, John Cena isn’t wasting any time: he’s making his entrance and dashing to the ring immediately, before all the good WrestleMania feuds are taken. I’ve no idea why he’s not taken the AJ Styles or Baron Corbin approach to WrestleMania matches: pick someone, assault them in a brutal manner and get given a high-paying PPV match instead of, you know, a prison sentence.
Cena acknowledges the mixed reception that he’s getting, and says that he’s here for the same reason that 99.9% of the SmackDown superstars are here: because they’ve not got a guaranteed match at WrestleMania. Wow, so Shinsuke Nakamura is less than a whole person? Jesus, John.
Cena cuts right to the chase: he’s here to get into the WWE Championship match at Fastlane. Apparently having a title or a title shot is the only possible way to get to WrestleMania, even though last time Cena just beat up a mouthy guy and his wife alongside his girlfriend. Just get Nikki to get into another spat on Total Divas, John.
Shane McMahon comes out, though he should know way better than to get close to anyone who really wants to go to WrestleMania by now. He welcomes John Cena, I guess happy to talk to anyone who’s not beaten up his father, constantly defies him or is AJ Styles. Shane says that everyone wants to go to WrestleMania, but if Cena goes to it as WWE Champion, it’ll be as a seventeen-time World Champion: the first one ever.
Daniel Bryan shows up, so buckle up for some heavy passive-aggression, John. Bryan says that he and Shane are on the same page: SmackDown is the land of opportunity, and every superstar in the Fatal Five-Way has earned that opportunity. So, Cena will also get an opportunity: if he wins the main event tonight against AJ Styles, he’ll go on to Fastlane.
At least there weren’t any graphics
Here’s Sami Zayn, ready for a match with Baron Corbin insofar as one can be ready to face that balding mass of tattoos and rage. Kevin Owens is on commentary, so prepare for nuclear levels of sass.
Corbin arrives, the bell rings and he backs Sami into a corner. Zayn dodges a blow from Baron, feels up the man’s tits and then dashes out of the ring. Sami Zayn is a sick, sick man. From the apron, Sami shoulders Baron in the gut, flips over him and runs right into a brick wall made of Lone Wolf.
On the outside, Sami is able to smash Corbin into the announce table. Corbin regains the advantage with a massive blow to the face, but Sami once again rallies to hurl Baron over the barricade and into the crowd, helped somewhat by a distraction from Owens. Backstage, Shane and Bryan contrive to make this all about them and their centuries-long snit, because fuck you and your interest in the low sport of wrestling. Jesus, can we please watch the match?
The footage finally returns to the action, right before a commercial break, which I guess is supposed to be cute but instead just causes the red mist to descend before my eyes. When we come back, Corbin is trying to rally and Jesus Christ, Shane and Bryan are back. Now Shane is eating popcorn backstage, and Bryan says that the match has been awesome and I wouldn’t fucking know, would I?
Sami leaps into a chokeslam-backbreaker, tries to counter with a tornado DDT, but gets dumped on the ground by Baron and beheaded by the guy. Zayn low-bridges Corbin, but his dive out onto him winds up with him getting caught by the Lone Wolf, who then dumps him on the announce table right in front of Owens.
Zayn tries for a quick roll-up, then plants Baron with a tornado DDT. Corbin only barely kicks out, then suddenly Dolph Ziggler arrives and superkicks Owens right in the back of the head! Zayn is distracted, and runs right into the End of Days!
The match was pretty solid, and it’s nice that both Corbin and Ziggler are able to do some real stuff in this feud, but the cuts back to Bryan and Shane were really unnecessary. 2 Stars.
Then Ziggler Zig-Zags Corbin, that sly motherfucker. And then Shane and Bryan go back to being dicks to each other and Bryan goes home. I doubt there are enough physical symbols for apathy in the world to suitably demonstrate how little I care about this.
Backstage, Shane McMahon has clearly been desperately searching for Owens and Zayn to make everything even more terrible for them. Except he doesn’t even make any decisions, so he literally just showed up for a front-row seat to their frustration.
This match is like 60% kicks
Here come the Riott Squad and their unsuitable music. Tonight, Ruby Riott and her “I’m not like all those other girls” haircut will be facing Naomi. Becky and Charlotte arrive, because anyone facing any member of the Riott Squad by themselves has either no friends or no brains. Naomi then makes her entrance, and it terrifies me how far she can slide on that ramp. If I could get that much distance, I’d never, ever stop.
Riott and Naomi go nose-to-nose before they start smacking each other around. Naomi rubs her ass in Ruby’s face, because Naomi will employ germ warfare even if it means defying the Geneva Convention to do so. She then slaps her in the face, which isn’t outlawed by the Geneva Convention even if Ruby sells it like it should be.
Riott rolls out of the ring, because Naomi’s now a war criminal and she’s not going to associate with someone like that. There’s a face-down between the Riott Squad and the Real Women’s Champions of SmackDown Live before we go to a break. When we come back, Riott has Naomi in the Masterlock, and for some reason we cut backstage to Carmella answering questions from the WWE Universe through her phone. Is this show not confident in its extremely talented wrestlers? Why do we keep cutting away from matches to show stuff that has no value (I meant the WWE Universe questions; not Carmella).
Naomi manages to escape the full nelson, and she and Riott both whack each other in the head with kicks. They regain their feet and exchange more kicks, and Ruby really, really, really should know better than to get into a kick-off with Naomi. The former Women’s Champ overwhelms the Riott Squad leader with her educated feet, but Ruby is able to dodge the Rear View and nail Naomi in the face with a superkick.
Naomi rolls out onto the apron, and is able to roundhouse Riott directly in the skull. She ascends to the top rope, and Ruby is able to sober up enough to dodge her dive before running right into a scorpion kick. Naomi wants a bulldog, but Riott drives her face-first into the turnbuckles in a last-second counter. Naomi is dazed, and a Riott Kick spells the end for her.
Good match, and I love that Ruby was able to win clean. If Ruby can get a clean victory over Becky in singles competition too, then she’ll definitely look like a potential Women’s Champion. 2.5 Stars.
Breezango are backstage, and the star of Unsolved shows up: clearly such an important and famous person that Tyler Breeze literally has to say, “Wow, it’s the star of Unsolved“. And it’s a good thing he did, because otherwise I’d have no idea, but it also probably means that he’s not a “celebrity” guest. Anyway, it’s the usual guest “star” soapy titwank which requires whoever the star of Unsolved is to explain the premise of his show. So basically, this segment was about telling us who this man was, and then explaining the show that he’s in.
Maybe this show needed a way better advertising campaign.
Those aren’t even real hammers
Here’s the New Day, the number one contenders for the Usos’ Tag Team Championships. They’re wearing sweet new monochome gear and look pretty awesome in it. Woods says that this Tag Team Title opportunity is about securing themselves a position at WrestleMania. Kofi reminds us all of their amazing rivalry with the Usos, and then spritzes Big E’s inner thighs with water. Jesus, these guys make almost anything funny.
Woods promises that they’re going to get the job done against the Usos once again, and that they’re on a roll after defeating Gable and Benjamin last week. Kingston says that their respect for the Usos doesn’t matter in this match, because this match is all about entering WrestleMania as the WWE World Tag Team Champions.
The Usos arrive, and they both mock the New Day’s positivity and pancakes. They admit that the New Day gave them a war, but remind the trio that they won that war. The Usos say that they used to be just like New Day: happy and cheerful. But they only got to the next level because of how they are right now. All they care about now is proving that they belong at WrestleMania.
The Usos say that they’ve never been at a WrestleMania. Holy shit, is that true? Goddamn, that’s insane to think about. They say that this year is going to be different, and it damn sure better be.
Big E interrupts, saying it’s not like the New Day have been doing nothing all the time the Usos were grinding: they were on top because they took what was theirs. At Fastlane, they’re going to take the titles from the Usos. Wow, this is getting really intense.
The Usos smack the microphone Big E’s holding away, and shit looks like it’s about to go down when suddenly…the Bludgeon Brothers arrive. Look, I recognise that they’re dangerous men, but if they’re going to start shit with these two teams then they’d best keep hold of their hammers.
Oh shit, they actually are holding onto the hammers. Well, that was extremely spooky; I think the Bludgeon Brothers can read my mind, and the future. The Usos and the New Day leave the ring, because those are some damn big hammers even if they are very obviously props.
We see a flashback of Aiden English and Rusev approaching Shane O’Mac, asking why the hell they’ve not been on the show for the past few weeks. So Shane put English in a match against Shinsuke Nakamura. Alright, I was kind of hoping this was leading up to an epic match between the Bludgeon Brothers and Rusev and English, because God knows Harper and Rowan need to take out some established tag teams and soon, but I’ll watch any Nakamura match rather happily.
Dolph Ziggler’s doing one of those stupid holding-a-cellphone-whilst-graphics-appear-onscreen. I don’t know whose idea this was, but I hope that their central heating fails in winter, their air conditioning fails in the summer and the costs of both repairs mean they don’t get to have a vacation that year.
Bobby Roode is backstage with Renee Young, asking him how he feels about facing Randy Orton. Roode says he’s super-excited, and wants to prove that he’s the best by beating the best. He states that he respects Randy Orton’s success, though does throw in the fact that he ranked higher on that motherfuckin’ Top Ten List.
Orton then appears and acts like he doesn’t give a damn about the list. He does, however, mention that if he becomes the US Champion then he’ll be a Grand Slam Winner.
There’s only one culturally-enriched wrestler in these parts
Meanwhile, Aiden English is serenading the Los Angeles crowd. They’re also using graphics for this, which would maybe be slightly less stupid if the words were in the vaguest sense in time with the actual singing that English is doing. I hope whoever’s idea this was has had to watch at least one of their pets get put to sleep.
Shinsuke Nakamura shows up, dancing his way to the ring. Bell rings, and Nakamura goes for a waistlock. Nakamura cartwheels out of an arm wrench, but gets shoulder-tackled by English. Shinsuke kicks the Shakespeare of Song right in the face, then unloads on the guy until English rolls right out of the ring.
Nakamura follows Shinsuke, tossing him back in the ring before Rusev is able to catch him with a kick to the skull. After a break, English is picking up the scraps, with Rusev providing distractions whenever it looks like Nakamura is about to getcha-getcha-getcha-getcha head in the game. The assault continues until Nakamura hoists English onto the ropes for a kick, but Aiden dodges onto the apron and hits Shinsuke with a crossbody.
English runs right into a huge kick from Nakamura, and the Artist once again delivers a flurry of hard-hitting offence to his opponent. Good Vibrations is followed by a running knee to the gut, and then a Kinshasa ends English’s night.
Nice opportunity for English to show what he’s capable of, though I appreciate the fact that it took multiple instances of interference to get it done. 2.5 Stars.
Cena interrupts Nakamura to make his entrance. I swear to Christ, I can’t deal with Cena taking Styles vs. Nakamura away from me. WWE has not earned the trust required for me to be calm about this.
AJ Styles follows Cena to the ring, and the two go nose-to-nose before separating. The bell rings, and the two men cautiously approach one another. The crowd is clearly in Styles’ corner as Owens and Zayn look on from backstage. Styles and Cena lock up, with AJ then applying a waistlock before Cena strikes him and latches on a sleeper hold.
Styles gets to his feet, shoots Cena off the ropes and gets knocked down hard by a shoulder tackle from John. Cena hits measured strikes in the corner, hitting frequent pin attempts and locking on another hold. Styles fights back, but runs into a pair of boots and eats a tornado DDT from the sixteen-time Champ as we head into a break.
When we come back, Cena looks to be working through the Five Moves of Doom, hitting the Five Knuckle Shuffle before getting Styles up for the AA. AJ graps rope, hauling himself off Cena’s shoulders before hitting the ushigoroshi for two! Styles lifts Cena into position for the Styles Clash, but Cena catapults AJ into the corner, following that up with a TKO for a near fall!
Cena props AJ up on the top turnbuckle, smacking him across the face before following him up. Cena wants an AA from the top rope, but Styles counters and puts Cena down with a rack bomb, with John only just kicking out! AJ gets up again, looking once more for the Styles Clash. It’s Cena’s turn to counter, and he does so with a electric chair facebuster, and this time it’s Styles who gets the shoulder up.
Cena looks extremely grim and serious as he waits on AJ, and he hits him with a vicious clothesline that turns Styles inside out. Cena stalks Styles again, wanting another huge shot, but AJ catches him mid-charge with a leaping enzuigiri to the side of the head, knocking Cena into the commercial break.
During the break, John kicked out of a damn Styles Clash, and Styles kicked out of an AA. Who the fuck put the commercial there? AJ nearly beheads Cena with a clothesline of his own, and the Champ repositions his opponent…before going for the Lionsault! It misses; Cena counters with Code Red! Styles barely kicks out, but Cena locks in the STF immediately, in the centre of the ring! Styles turns it into a pin, forcing a break, and then Cena misses a charge to blast the corner!
Styles hits the Phenomenal Forearm, but Cena kicks out again! Styles looks stunned, but drags Cena into position for the 450 springboard. Cena gets the knees up; he hits the AA, and then goes for a second one! Styles escapes out of the ring, then dodges a charge from Cena to let his challenger blast the steel steps with full force!
Styles rolls back into the ring, in desperate need of recovery. The ref starts counting Cena out, but AJ heads right back out, and gets hit with an AA through the announce table! Styles is goddamn out. If Cena takes a count-out victory then this is the best storytelling I’ve seen in years.
The ref starts the count, and there’s no way that Styles can get back in the ring…but he does! What the fuck is even tonight?! Cena looks barely conscious and in total disbelief that AJ made it back. He goes for another AA, but gets locked in the Calf Crusher! Cena’s miles from the ropes, but he stares at the WrestleMania sign, rolls through and gets Styles up for the Attitude Adjustment! Cena is going to Fastlane!
Hell of a match, with several perfect potential endings utilised and some incredible psychology. This was some of the storytelling WWE should have had Cena do inside the Elimination Chamber; it would have made the match a lot stronger. 5 Stars.
Kevin Owens’ music hits, and Zayn and Owens are already heading to the ring. Then Baron Corbin suddenly blasts Cena out of nowhere. Zayn and Owens hit the ring, helping Corbin take out Styles and Cena.
Suddenly, Dolph’s entrance music hits and he hits the ring, superkicking Corbin! He sends Owens out of the ring, then superkicks Zayn! He pretends to be buddy-buddy with Styles and Cena, then decks AJ. Cena AA’s Dolph to finish the night, and a really good episode of SmackDown!
Tags: AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, Becky Lynch, Bobby Roode, byron saxton, Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin, charlotte flair, Corey Graves, Dolph Ziggler, Fastlane, Jinder Mahal, John Cena, Kevin Owens, naomi, Randy Orton, Ruby Riott, sami zayn, Shane McMahon, smackdown live, The Bludgeon Brothers, The New Day, The Riott Squad, the usos, Tom Phillips, WWE